UNIVERSITY of Georgia researchers have already used electrolyzed oxidizing (EO) water to sanitize poultry, kill funguses on nursery-grown plants and remove pathogens from produce, and now, they're using it to reduce Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) on beef.
For more than 10 years, University of Georgia food scientist Yen-Con Hung has researched the use of EO water to make food safer and surfaces cleaner.
EO water is created when a saltwater solution goes through an electrolysis process that separates the water's positive and negative ions. This makes two forms of water: one that is very acidic and one that is very alkaline. The acidic EO water is used to sanitize surfaces and kill bacteria, and the alkaline EO water is used as a detergent.
Hung's latest project uses EO water to inactivate levels of seven strains of STEC pathogens in beef processing.
To inactivate the pathogens, Hung and his colleagues applied both streams of EO water to beef hides during processing.
"If we can prevent the STEC from getting on the carcass, we can prevent it from getting in the ground beef," said Hung, a professor in the university's College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences. "This uses both EO water forms: alkaline to clean the hide and acidic to kill the STEC on the surface."
This project is part of a five-year, $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study ways to kill foodborne pathogens on beef before it arrives on supermarket shelves and in restaurant kitchens.
The overall project focuses on six different processing technologies for the entire beef-value chain. The goal is to determine which technology or combination of technologies is effective and feasible to adopt across the industry, Hung said.
The food industry currently uses a chlorine solution to kill bacteria. Acidic EO water can be up to 10 times more effective at killing harmful bacteria than traditional methods, Hung said.
Hung's EO water research results were published this year in Food Control and LWT Food Science & Technology Journal.
In a separate study, Hung is working with a major restaurant chain to test the use of EO water on fruits and vegetables in its individual restaurants.
EO water has actually been used for more than 200 years to produce chlorine. For the past 20 years, small-scale units that produce EO water have been available for commercial and home use.