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Health News Archive 410 - Kill E. Coli on Raw Produce
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Washing Produce in Vinegar + Hydrogen Peroxide Kills Microbes Such as E. Coli

Here is a timely article that has not been reprinted in the mass media. With the current scare of contaminated spinach, it seems that spinach processors and food distribution facilities, as well as consumers would find this of interest.

Susan S. Sumner, a food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia), has found that misting fruits and vegetables with vinegar and three percent hydrogen peroxide (commonly sold in stores) kills attached microbes.  Most people recognize that uncooked or undercooked meat can harbor disease-causing microbes, such as E. coli.  Raw fruits and vegetables pose an equal and possibly greater threat than meat.  Sumner says that vegetables are more likely than red meat to be contaminated by microbes (most of which are benign) and that the microbes adhere to vegetables more persistently.  Elizabeth Ehrenfeld of IDEXX Labs (Westbrook, Maine) found that ten of 39 samples of fresh bean sprouts, bought from local groceries in 1998, harbored E. coli.  The contamination probably occurred from contact with dirty hands during harvesting or distribution.  Salmonella and Shigella have also been found on raw vegetables.

Studies performed in the 1990s showed that rinsing produce in water or even using a detergent does little to remove microbes.  Sumner wanted to find a simple solution for restaurants and other establishments that provide raw salads.  She used simple laundry spray bottles to mist produce with vinegar and then with hydrogen peroxide.  The combination is highly effective and causes little effect on the food's taste.  Which solution is applied first makes no difference, but using the two in combination is key.  "If the acetic acid got rid of 100 organisms," Sumner told Science News Online, "the hydrogen peroxide would get rid of 10,000, and the two together would get rid of 100,000 . . . every [microbe] that drips off is killed."  The combination also effectively cleans cutting boards and kitchen counters.

Source: Raloff J. How to disinfect your salad. Science News Online, September 28, 1996. Available at:

Raloff J. Wash-resistant bacteria taint foods.  Science News Online. May 30, 1998. Available at Accessed on April 12, 2006.

Reprinted with the exclusive permission of the Townsend Letter - July 2006.

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