Exposing fruit to low levels of the toxic form of oxygen for up to eight days prevented almost 95 per cent of fungal infections.
Fungal contamination is the most common cause of spoilage of stored fruit, salads and vegetables.
It is estimated that up to 30 per cent of fresh fruit and veg produce can be lost due to fungal organisms.
Since the 1950s, food companies have used cheap and effective synthetic fungicides to preserve their products. Often these are combined with pre-pack treatments containing chlorine and bromine.
However, this approach raises health issues.
Study leader Dr Ian Singleton, from the University of Newcastle, said: “There are public concerns over pesticide residues on fresh produce. Ozone is a viable alternative to pesticides as it is safe to use and effective against a wide spectrum of micro-organisms. Importantly, it leaves no detectable residues in contrast to traditional methods of preserving fresh produce.”
The findings were presented yesterday at the Society for General Microbiology’s Spring Conference in Harrogate.
Dr Singleton’s team found that low concentrations of gaseous ozone preserved a wide range of stored fresh produce, including tomatoes, grapes and plums.