Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Vinegar: an antibacterial wash for fruits and vegetables

I recently read an article in the Sept./Oct. issue of Cooks Illustrated magazine about the antibacterial properties of vinegar on smooth skin fruits. They used a 3 parts water and 1 part vinegar solution. This was of some interest to me because I read somewhere that people were getting ill from salmonella on the surface of cantaloupes that was transferred to the meat of the fruit by either poor handling and washing (no washing?) or simply the cutting action of the knife touching the surface of the skin and dragging the pathogens into the fruit.

Previously, they (America's Test Kitchen) tested vinegar to remove surface wax and pesticides but wondered about its efficacy in destroying bacteria. They tried four different methods to clean apples and pears and left one batch unwashed. Batches of fruit were rinsed under running cold water, scrubbed with a brush, washed with the vinegar solution and washed with antibacterial soap. They then took surface samples and grew the bacteria in petri dishes. The results were interesting.

Cold water rinse removed only 25% of the bacteria.

Scrubbing with a brush removed 85%.

The vinegar solution removed 98%.

They did not give the percentage for antibacterial soap but it was slightly better than the vinegar solution.

With so many people getting ill from drug resistant strains of E. coli on salad greens and wondering about the cleanliness of lettuce and spinach - finding no good way to clean them except rinsing under running water, I found the results of the study to be illuminating and better tasting having tried washing the greens in a mild dish soap solution. It is difficult to rinse off the soap taste completely and wastes a lot of water.

So I did further online searches about the antibacterial properties of vinegar and came upon some interesting sites.

This Japanese study is quite interesting and was posted on the Pub Med, National Library of Medicine and NIH site. The study examined the antibacterial properties of a 2.5% solution of vinegar (vinegar is usually sold as a 5% acidity solution) on food-borne pathogenic bacteria including Escherichia coli O157:H7, in conjunction with added salt and sugar. They also studied the effectiveness of the solution with increased temperatures.

Another site with more information.

And a site with tips on cleaning with lemon juice, vinegar and other common household items.

There was some concern that antibacterial soaps using triclosan would eventually breed drug resistant bacteria. Using natural products seems to be a better and cheaper way to clean your food, hands, kitchen and bathrooms.

I guess if you can't clean the veggies for salads yourself when eating out, it's best to opt for a dressing that has either lemon juice or vinegar in it.

For cleaning purposes just buy the cheapest vinegar which is usually 5% distilled white vinegar.


Blogger Annie in Austin said...

Thanks for the comprehensive post on vinegar, Ki - I'd read something about it using it for melon skins, but a lot of your information was new to me.

So adding some salt enhanced vinegar's effect? Maybe that's why so many cultures use that kind of dressing on stuff like cole slaw.
Ranch may taste good, but probably won't do much good against dangerous organisms at the salad bar!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

2:25 PM  
Blogger Ki said...

Hi Annie,
We've been using bleach cleansers around the kitchen but I hate the toxic smell and breathing that stuff was not pleasant. So I made up a 2.5% vinegar solution in a squeeze bottle and have it ready to clean the veggies, sink and counter. A much better alternative to the harsh bleach. The only question I have is how long does it take for the bacteria to die? I wonder if it is instantaneous?

It is not surprising that salt added to vinegar enhances the antibacterial efficacy but I was surprised to learn that the addition of sugar lessened the potency. I thought sugar and honey were used in antiquity as an antibacterial poultice. In fact in one of my old posts, I remember doing some research after reading that a doctor had used honey to treat a patient with bed sores that were unresponsive to antibiotics so I'm puzzled. I guess it's as the article mentioned that it raises the ph level. I believe the honey/sugar works by depriving the bacteria of moisture but I'm not sure if that's right.

7:04 PM  
Anonymous roberta said...

Hi Annie,

When I clean my kitchen every day; I put a cup of straight apple cider vinegar in my microwave oven to steam the food particles and then dilute it with a cup of water. I clean the microwave oven inside and out (AC Vinegar will clean windows no streaks).

Then I clean all surfaces in the kitchen with it. Awesome fresh smell as well as CLEAN. I also clean my cutting boards with straight AC Vinegar. I pour fresh AC Vinegar onto the surface of the board so it will soak into the crevices of the wood; then clean the board. AC Vinegar does not require rinsing.

I clean my bathrooms with AC Vinegar as well; and all door knobs in the house and all surfaces especially the floors.

Happy House, especially the Kitchen and fruits and veggies, All.


7:09 AM  

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