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Safer spinach? Scientist's technique dramatically reduces E. coli numbers

University of Illinois scientists have found a way to boost current industry capabilities when it comes to reducing the number of E. coli 0157:H7 cells that may live undetected on spinach leaves.

"By combining continuous ultrasound treatment with chlorine washing, we can reduce the total number of foodborne pathogenic bacteria by over 99.99 percent," said Hao Feng, a U of I professor of food science and human nutrition.

According to Feng, the USDA is looking for proposed technologies that can achieve a 4 to 6 log reduction in pathogen cells (a 6 log reduction would achieve a million-fold reduction in pathogenic bacteria). The food processing industry can now achieve a 1 log or tenfold reduction. In comparison, the U of I technique yields a 4 log reduction.

"Combining technologies is the key to bridging the gap between our current capacity and what USDA would like to see. The use of ultrasound exposure during chlorine washing gives the industry a way to significantly enhance microbial safety," he said.

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