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Deadly for bacteria, great for consumers

Electrolyzed water rivals chlorine and heat for killing E. coli, salmonella and listeria

Washington D.C., August 24 -- Electricity and water can be fatal. But that could be good news for consumers now that researchers have shown the deadly combination also kills bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and listeria on foods and food utensils.

"Electrolyzed water" - produced by applying an electrical current to a very dilute saltwater solution - kills bacteria on fresh produce more effectively in some cases than heat or water containing chlorine, according to a research report presented here today at the 220th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Electrolyzed water could also be used to sanitize cutting boards, eating and drinking utensils, and food-processing equipment, says Yen-Con Hung, Ph.D., the University of Georgia professor who conducted the research. Soaking a cutting board in electrolyzed water for about five minutes at a moderately warm temperature (about 95-105 F) can reduce bacteria up to a million-fold, he says.

One advantage of using electrolyzed water to kill bacteria on food surfaces is that it doesn't adversely affect quality as heat can, according to Hung.

Trained sensory panelists "found there was no significant effect of the treatment on the quality," he said. They were "unable to find any differences in color, appearance or smell" between produce washed with electrolyzed water and produce washed with tap water.

The electrolytic process produces very acidic water. Hung believes the water's low pH (acidity) and potential for oxidation-reduction contribute to its effectiveness. Essentially, oxidation-reduction involves the exchange of electrons. In the case of bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and listeria, this exchange may take away electrons needed by cell membranes for metabolism and survival.

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Contact: Charmayne Marsh
y_marsh@acs.org
202-872-4445
American Chemical Society
24-Aug-2000


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