Foodborne illnesses are not just a meat problem these days. The rising incidences of E. coli breakouts traced back to fresh produce have been a concern among farmers, regulators and the public. Foodborne bacteria show no bias against farmer or food. So if you ever wonder where your food comes from, now is the time to really think.
Major recalls on pre-packaged leafy greens and spinach demonstrates that this sort of centralized food system gives more opportunity for wide spread contamination.
It’s like one big salad bowl!
The E. coli breakout in 2007 was traced back to Natural Selection Foods that has 20 other brands such as Dole Food Company, Trader Joe’s Sysco, and Earthbound Farm. These companies also had to recall their spinach just to be safe.
Small local farms may be easier to trace and may not have such large scale devastation.
Recent trends on consumer health and public interest in chemical-free food have lead researchers to seek alternatives, such as natural antimicrobials to control pathogens. Herbs have been used for generations by many cultures as food enhancers and to treat ailments. There has been scientific research since the late 19th century documenting the antimicrobial properties of certain herbs.
The herb hydrosols of oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage were used in this study to observe their microbial action against Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Staphylococcus aureus on fresh cut parsley found in the USDA Journal of Food Processing and Preservation. These hydrosols proved to significantly reduce these pathogens.
The rise of antibiotic resistance has led the FDA to ask farmers to reduce their use of antibiotics on livestock. The use of essential oils could be one step producers could make to reduce the risk of food borne illnesses and have the public’s approval of a natural approach.
Antibiotics and antimicrobial agents are simple compounds made in a laboratory where each batch has the same exact measurements.
Essential oils on the other hand, consists of hundreds of compounds where their natural structure doesn’t get broken apart. Since they are found in nature, no two batches are exactly the same. Just like a fine wine, the climate, rainfall, and soil can affect the herbs composition.
It is harder for bacteria to build a resistance to these complex structures.
Still, it is advised that consumers wash all produce at home, even prepackaged produce.
You can make your own non-toxic fruit and vegetable wash at home. Add ½ part vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle. Add 2-3 drops of essential oils and shake. Oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, and even lemon or cinnamon essential oil can be used. A combination of essential oils can be mixed to really get the synergistic action going. Rinse produce after a few minutes. Another option would be to soak your produce in a bowl with the same measurements.
Hydrogen peroxide can also be used instead of vinegar. Do not mix hydrogen peroxide and vinegar together as it forms a toxic substance called peracetic acid.
Essential oils are very potent. Do not add more than 3 or 4 drops if you are cleaning produce. This is how you can make buying essential oils cost effective. A little goes a long way.
Place the spray bottle in the refrigerator to preserve the cleaner. You can also use the spray bottle to clean cutting boards, countertops, and bathroom surfaces. You can also cut your produce on a naturally anti-microbial bamboo cutting board.
The natural anti-microbial action of essential oils is starting to catch on. This natural anti-bacterial hand soap uses the power of thyme to get rid of germs. The orange vanilla scent is refreshing! It is trycloson free! Many common anti-bacterial soaps contain this chemical which the American Medical Association now advises not to use it as it may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Further, trycloson has been linked to many adverse health effects.
What about the hydrosols used in this study? How are they different than essential oils?
Hydrosols are plants that have been hydro-distilled or steam- distilled. The essence of the plant is found in the hydrosols. Microscopic essential oils are dissolved in the steam. This makes the hydrosols gentler than essential oils and can be more suitable to use during pregnancy (except in the first trimester and in contra-indicated pregnancies), and with children.
Hydrosols are usually the byproduct of essential oil production which makes this method of decontamination on a commercial scale very economical.
All essential oils mentioned above and some common hydrosols can be found here.
Hydrosols can make a great multi-use spritzer to freshen the air, and even your bedding and upholstery. Add 1 teaspoon of hydrosol to your water and vinegar mix to wash your produce and clean household surfaces.
Törnük, Fatih & Dertli,Enes, Decontamination of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Staphylococcus aureus from Fresh-Cut Parsley with Natural Plant Hydrosols. Journal of Food Processing and Preservation, September 2014.
Stewart, David, Ph.D., The Transience of Drugs and Permanence of Oils, Raindrop Messenger, Vol. 5 No. 5, October-November 2007.