Argon (Ar) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are classified as miscellaneous additives and are permitted gases for food use in the European Union (EU). Air Liquide S.A. (Paris, France) has stimulated commercial interest in the potential MAP applications of using Ar and, to a lesser extent, N2O. Air Liquide's broad range of patents claim that in comparison with N2, Ar can more effectively inhibit enzymic activities, microbial growth and degradative chemical reactions in selected perishable foods (Brody and Thaler, 1996; Spencer, 1999). More specifically, an Air Liquide patent for fresh produce applications claims that Ar and N2O are capable of extending shelf-life by inhibiting fungal growth, reducing ethylene emissions and slowing down sensory quality deterioration (Fath and Soudain, 1992). Of particular relevance is the claim that Ar can reduce the respiration rates of fresh produce and hence have a direct effect on extension of shelf-life (Spencer, 1999).
Although Ar is chemically inert, Air Liquide's research has indicated that it may have biochemical effects, probably owing to its similar atomic size to molecular O2 and its higher solubility in water and density compared with N2 and O2. Hence, Ar is probably more effective at displacing O2 from cellular sites and enzymic O2 receptors with the consequence that oxidative deterioration reactions are likely to be inhibited. In addition, Ar and N2O are thought to sensitise microorganisms to antimicrobial agents. This possible sensitisation is not well understood but may involve alteration of the membrane fluidity of microbial cell walls with a subsequent influence on cell function and performance (Thom and
Marquis, 1984). Clearly, more independent research is needed to understand better the potential beneficial effects of Ar and N2O (Day, 1998).
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