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Washing foods with electrolyzed water can sometimes be up to10 times more effective at killing harmful bacteria than traditionalrinsing techniques, according to one University of Georgia scientist.”Currently, the food industry washes foods with a chlorinesolution to kill bacteria,” said Yen Con Hung, a food scientistat UGA’s Center for Food Safety and Quality Enhancement in Griffin,Ga. “This method is effective, but it takes time to mix thechlorine solution and to ensure the correct concentration of residualchlorine in the solution.”Hunghas been testing a new method, which uses a combination of water,electricity and a salt solution to enhance the properties of water.The water and salt solution flow through a machine called an electrolyzedoxidizing water unit. The positive ions run through one side,and the negative ions through the other. The result is two formsof water; one very acidic and one with very high pH levels.Kills Bacteria BetterTesting the two waters in his laboratory, Hung found the acidicwater very effective at killing harmful bacteria. “We havetested this water on shell eggs, apples, lettuce and cutting boards,”Hung said. “It has a very strong bacterial killing effect,and for some applications has better effect than the currentlyused water/chlorine solutions.”Working with UGA sensory specialists, Hung put the acidic waterthrough consumer tests. “We had trained panelists compareproducts which were not treated to products treated with the water,”he said. “They found no differences in color, appearanceor smell.”Powerful SanitizerHung also tested the high pH water and found it to be extremelyuseful as a sanitizer. “It works like a soap, and it easesthe attachment of proteins and lipids in food materials to thefood preparation and processing surfaces,” Hung said.Hung’s research findings were published just a few months agoand he is already getting response from the food industry. “Thedevice is manufactured in Japan and Russia, and it isn’t beingused in the United States, yet,” he said. “We have alreadyheard from companies that are interested in using the processhere in the U.S.”Perfect for Food Service OperationsHung envisions the process being used by food service operationsfirst. “The small unit could easily be used in food servicefacilities,” Hung said. “It’s easier for workers touse so there would be no excuses for not using it. There’s nothingto prepare and mix, and you wouldn’t have to leave customers waiting.”He says the unit could also be useful in food processing plants.”In mass production, this technology would be very cost effective,”Hung said. “When you want to use it, you push a button. Youdon’t have to worry with mixing up concentrated liquids, and it’smore effective than chlorine rinses.”May Be Useful to ProcessorsIn the future, Hung plans to test the application of electrolyzedoxidized water during chicken processing. “We want to usethe water on chicken carcasses to see if it cuts down on the levelsof salmonella and campylobacter,” Hung said. “If itdoes, this treatment could be incorporated into chicken processingplants.”Hungalso plans to test the water on food products that are hard totreat to remove bacteria. “You can’t use heat to kill bacteriaon products like fresh berries and seafood like raw oysters,”Hung said. “The food needs to be safe, but no one wants theiroysters to be cooked. They wouldn’t be raw oysters any longer.”He also plans to further study what makes the water so effectiveand which properties in the water work best at killing bacteria.Home Use Down the Road”In Japan, there are home units similar to this that areused for treating water,” Hung said. “It purifies drinkingwater and lowers the pH levels.”Hung says he hopes to someday see U.S. consumers using homeversions of the electrolyzed water units. “It would be handyand could easily clean your food and sanitize your kitchen,”he said. “Until then, consumers should continue to wash theirfood products at home before preparing them for their families.”(Photographs by Sharon Omahen.) This story is another in a weekly series called “Planting the Seed: Science for the New Millennium.” These stories feature ideas and advances in agricultural and environmental sciences with implications for the future.