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New wash could make produce safer

October 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The CDC says in the U.S alone, foodborne pathogens are responsible for 76-million illnesses every year. But now, food scientists may have found a way to make your next serving of veggies safer. Heather LeCompte buys a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables for her family, but now she's extra careful.

"I mean, it makes me feel very scared that what I eat I can get sick from. So now, we're taking more precautions in our family to really clean vegetables," said LeCompte.

The CDC says foodborne illnesses -- many from fresh produce -- send 300,000 Americans to the hospital every year. More than 5,000 die.

Now, University of Georgia food microbiologists may have found a way to make fresh produce safer. It is a wash that kills dangerous bacteria like salmonella and E. coli in as little as one minute.

"It's a combination of an organic acid and a detergent that when together is highly bactericidal. It kills very large numbers of harmful bacteria," said Michael Doyle, Ph.D.

The chemicals are inexpensive and are already FDA approved for other uses. You can't taste or smell them, but researchers say together, they kill thousands more food pathogens than chlorine bleach, which is currently used.

"If it turns out to be as good as we think it is, it will be very exciting. I think it will be a major contribution to reducing foodborne pathogen contamination in foods," said Doyle.

Until then, food scientists say it's up to you. Wash your hands before you handle produce. Then, after you've peeled it or removed outer leaves, wash your hands again with soap. Then, rinse one more time. Simple steps that could make your next meal safer.

This wash could be used in the home during preparing vegetables or in the field during harvest.

The chemicals used in this new wash are non-toxic and do not pose the same environmental threats as chlorine. The anti-contaminant solution could be on the market in the next two years.

IS YOUR FOOD SAFE?

BACKGROUND:

Recent headlines about food contamination may have some Americans worried about buying produce. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne pathogens are responsible for 76 million illnesses every year. Foodborne illnesses send 300,000 Americans to the hospital every year, and more than 5,000 will die.

CURRENT MEASURES:

A chlorine wash is commonly used to reduce harmful bacteria levels on vegetables, fruits and poultry; however, because of chlorine's sensitivity to food components and extraneous materials released in chlorinated water treatments, many bacteria survive. Chlorine is also toxic at high concentrations. It may also produce off-flavors and an undesirable appearance in certain foods. In addition, the chemical may be harmful to the environment. "We can't rely on chlorine to eliminate pathogens on foods," says Michael Doyle, Ph.D., a food microbiologist from the University of Georgia, told Ivanhoe.

NEW PROTECTION:

Researchers from the University of Georgia have developed a new technology for reducing contamination of dangerous bacteria on food. The antimicrobial wash kills salmonella and E. coli on foods like lettuce, tomatoes, fruits, poultry and meat. The wash is made from inexpensive ingredients that are recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "It's a combination of an organic acid and a detergent that when together is highly bacteria killing," Dr. Doyle said. "It kills very large numbers of harmful bacteria." The chemicals used in the wash are non-toxic and do not pose the same environmental threats as chlorine. Researchers say the same ingredients in the wash may also have the potential to extend the shelf-life of some foods.

HOW IS IT USED?

The new antimicrobial technology can be used as a spray and immersion solution. Its concentration can be adjusted for treatment of fragile foods such as leafy produce or more robust foods such as poultry. According to Dr. Doyle, the wash could be used in the home during washing and cutting vegetables or in the field during harvest. Researchers hope the solution could be on the market in the next one to two years.

TAKING PRECAUTIONS:

Food scientists say there are steps you can take to prevent foodborne illnesses, including the following:

  • Wash your hands before handling produce
  • Wash your hands with soap after you've peeled or removed outer leaves
  • Rinse your hands one more time


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