Research Finds Plant-Based Cleansers Best for Sanitizing and Preserving Produce
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Research Finds Plant-Based Cleansers Best for Sanitizing and Preserving Produce

August 14, 2015

Washing fresh produce is key to preventing foodborne illnesses, but that doesn't mean your spinach needs to be doused in bleach.

Researchers at the University of Arizona have discovered that natural, plant-based ingredients can be more effective at sanitizing and preserving produce than harsh chemicals.

"Plant antimicrobials can be used by consumers at home," associate professor and researcher Sadhana Ravishankar said in an article from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). "Plant extracts and essential oils can be added in the wash water by themselves or combined with vinegar in the wash water for treatment."

Plant extracts are great produce sanitizers, but they also continue to kill bacteria during storage and act as a natural preservative. These preservative qualities help produce stay fresh longer leading to less food waste. Some provide additional protection against the risk of cancer, diabetes and high cholesterol. Since they are used in relatively small quantities, plant extracts and other natural compounds won't alter the taste.

Best of all, many can be found in a grocery store aisle for a fraction of the price of those fancy produce washes.

Ravishankar and her team is also researching a new way of applying plant antimicrobials to improve salad safety by incorporating plant essential oils into edible films that are added into salad bags. Ravishankar said the vapors from the oil kill the bacteria in the salad bags during storage. Edible films are made from plant-based resources like apples, carrots, hibiscus, or spinach pulp.

A $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding further research to test combinations of plant-based antimicrobials and their effectiveness when used for multiple washes.

DIY Produce Wash

There are quite a few recipes for DIY produce wash, but for the most part, they all require the same ingredients.

A spray for hard-skinned produce, like apples or oranges, generally consists of water, baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar. Produce is sprayed with the mixture, rubbed clean, and then rinsed with fresh water.

A soak for leafy greens, berries or any other fragile produce is primarily water, vinegar, and a little bit of salt. Produce is left to soak for about half an hour before it is rinsed with fresh water.