Science & Technology
4:00 am
Thu May 9, 2013

NC State Uses Herbs And Spices To Clean Produce

strawberries
N.C. State and University of Tennessee researchers are extracting oils from herbs and spices to use as a disinfectant for produce.
Credit NC Strawberry Association

Researchers at N.C. State say oils extracted from herbs and spices could act as a natural disinfectant for fruits and vegetables. 

A joint project with the University of Tennessee aims to find an alternative to chlorine used on produce grown for mass consumption. Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie is a horticultural science professor at N.C. State's research campus in Kannapolis.  She says pungent spices tend to be best at fighting harmful germs.

"They have a very distinct odor, like cinnamon, for instance," Perkins-Veazie says.

"The actual molecules that create that smell are very effective at popping open a bacteria, so they'll attack the membrane and the bacteria can't replicate."

Scientists are trying to create a substance with that oil that could be applied to produce before it hits the shelves.  Perkins-Veazie says bacteria usually comes into contact with food when farmers use nets to gather it or during shipping on trucks that have not been properly sterilized.  The CDC says about one in six Americans gets sick from pathogens on food every year.