Campus News

Scientist uses electrified water to kill foodborne pathogens

UGA researchers have used electrolyzed oxidizing water to sanitize poultry, kill funguses on nursery-grown plants and remove pathogens from produce. Now they’re using it to reduce shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC, on beef.

For more than 10 years, UGA food scientist Yen-Con Hung has researched the use of electrolyzed oxidizing 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 very acidic and one 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. This year alone more than 55,000 pounds of beef products have been recalled due to the presence of STEC, he said.

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 College of Agricultural and 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 goal is to determine which technology or combination of technologies is effective and feasible to adopt across the industry, he 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.