Cost effective and environmentally friendly solution helps promote food safety



After a tasty meal, an upset stomach may be the first sign that something unseen could be living in food causing sickness.

Luckily, Dr. Ajit Mahapatra, a research scientist and professor in Fort Valley State University’s College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, is conducting research that helps to reduce food borne illnesses and diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Foodborne illness are caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Contamination can occur when food is not stored at the right temperature. It can also occur during cross contamination with utensils or surfaces and poor hygiene during preparation.

As a result, Mahapatra and graduate animal science students work diligently in the lab to develop low cost, effective methods that food processing industries can use to reduce the spread of common food borne illnesses such as E. coli, and salmonella. The experiments are conducted in FVSU’s Food Engineering Laboratory.

In this lab, students and Mahapatra conduct experiments with goat meat, milk and produce with the goal of developing food sterilization techniques and developing new products and technologies to promote food safety. During their latest research project, Mahapatra and his students indicate that electrolyzed oxidizing (EO) water can be used for the decontamination of meat.

“EO water is generated when a saltwater solution goes through an electrolysis process that separates the water’s positive and negative ions,” Mahapatra said. When an electric current is passed across two electrodes in a chamber separated by a membrane, it creates two types of electrolyzed water. One very acidic (anode side) and one very alkaline (cathode side), he added.

Along with decontaminating meat, EO water can also be used to sanitize surfaces and reduce or kill bacteria, whereas, alkaline EO water is used as a detergent. Alkaline EO water can be used to remove dirt and grease from kitchen utensils such as cutting boards.   Mahapatra said a number of researchers have reported that EO water is capable of reducing both pathogens and spoilage organisms attached to cutting boards.

Moreover, Mahapatra also notes that EO water offers an advantage to food industries and consumers, in that it can be easily generated since tap water and salt (sodium chloride) are the ingredients.  EO water also does not require transportation costs or storage and mixing of chemicals making it cost effective.

In addition, there are no adverse effects on the environment, Mahapatra said. Uncovered EO water, stored in shade, can maintain its efficacy for several days, and EO water stored in airtight containers can maintain its efficacy up to 30 days.

To illustrate the effects, Mahapatra and his students conducted a study to show the potential of acidic EO water for inactivating E. coli on the surface of goat meat. Acidic EO water treatment results indicate a reduction of 92 percent for E. coli on goat meat injected with the pathogen.

“The food industry currently uses chlorine solutions to kill bacteria. Acidic EO water can be up to 10 times more effective at killing bacteria on food surfaces. The potential of EO water to eliminate E. coli and other pathogens is an important possibility in enhancing food safety and promoting the goat meat industry,” Mahapatra said.

Research from this project is published in scientific journals and peer reviews with an emphasis in food and agriculture sciences. For more information about EO water, or topics involving food safety, contact Dr. Ajit Mahapatra, mahapatraa@fvsu.edu, or (478) 825- 6809.

–FVSU–

Foodborn Illnesses Photo

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