Auburn, Jan. 16---The next time you are
doused with water after passing a produce stand at the grocery
store, don’t be upset: It may protect you from food-borne illness.
For many years, grocery stores have applied light
sprays to fruits and vegetables. In the past, this routine chore
typically was entrusted to a produce-area employee, usually equipped
with a spray bottle. Today, it is most likely done with an automated
spray located directly above the produce that activates
Several decades ago, grocery stores sprayed
vegetables with only one aim in mind: to keep them fresh.
Today, the purpose is most often twofold: to keep
the produce fresh and safe. And that is why sprays today are likely
to be a mixture of both water and chlorine.
Following several outbreaks of severe foodborne
illness in recent years, scientists have learned that chlorine
sprays are an effective safeguard against harmful food pathogens.
A recent study by the University of Georgia’s
Department of Food Science and Technology reveals that simple
chlorinated sprays, whether used at the grocery store or home, are
effective in killing food pathogens.
Indeed, the use of chlorinated sprays is a practice
not only limited to grocery stores. Many food-processing facilities,
especially poultry plants, routinely incorporate chlorine sprays as
an integral part of the food-processing chain.
Even so, chlorine sprays, while effective, are no
panacea, and that is why experts still recommend consumers take
extra precautions after bringing home the produce.
"Chlorinated water will reduce bacteria, but it
will not kill everything," says Dr. Jean Weese, an Alabama
Cooperative Extension System food scientist. "In research
projects, we’ve soaked vegetables in chlorinated water for an
hour, and they still come out with some bacteria."
That, Weese says, is the reason why consumers still
need to be extra cautious when handling raw fruits and vegetables in
First, the produce should be washed thoroughly.
Second, if you live with someone with a weak immune
system, such as an AIDS patient, elderly person or infant, you also
should consider peeling the produce. Peeling removes about 99
percent of pathogens.
Even then, you’re not completely home free, Weese
As an extra precaution, she also recommends wiping
countertops and cutting boards where raw foods been prepared.
"Any sort of raw food, whether produce or
meats, carry the threat of foodborne illness," Weese says.
"Before removing a raw product off a
countertop, for example, you definitely need to make sure the
surface has been wiped with a chlorine solution before placing
something else, such as a baby pacifier, on it," she adds.
"Otherwise, you may be placing someone in your family at risk
of exposure to foodborne pathogens."
Studies also have shown the kitchen is one of the
primary sources of foodborne illness. They reveal, for example, that
almost 67 percent of kitchen sponges may be contaminated with fecal
In addition, 82 percent of sink faucets are
contaminated during food preparation.
Still, despite all these risks, research reveals the
vast majority of Americans are not heeding these warnings. Roughly
60 percent of consumers do not wash the cutting board after cutting
raw meat and before preparing fresh fruits and vegetables.
Worldwide death rates associated with foodborne
illness continue to mount.
In the United States, for example, deaths from
infectious diseases have increased by 58 percent since 1990 – all
the more reason, Weese says, why Americans should heed the warnings
of food scientists and adopt safer hygienic practices in the kitchen
and throughout the home.
(Source: Dr. Jean Weese, Extension Food Scientist,