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.