Published on 01/16/08

Shocking results on chicken

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Water is one of the world’s most precious resources. But if you combine it with salt and an electrical charge, it becomes one of the strongest disinfectants, too.

Scientists at the University of Georgia are studying ways to use electrolyzed oxidized water, or EO water, to sanitize fresh chicken in processing plants along with other things. It can be up to 10 times more effective at killing harmful bacteria than traditional methods.

"We wanted to use the water on chicken carcasses to see if it cuts down on the levels of salmonella and campylobacter," said Yen-Con Hung, a food scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Two steams of water

EO water is created when a saltwater solution goes through an electrolysis process, said Hung. It separates the water’s positive and negative ions. This makes two forms of water, one very acidic and one very alkaline.

Working with CAES poultry scientist Scott Russell, Hung tested both forms of EO water on fresh chicken carcasses. They found the acidic EO water killed foodborne pathogens on the chicken. The alkaline EO water cleaned the chicken.

“The alkaline stream of EO water mixes with the fat on the chicken and cleanses the surface and protects the carcass in the future,” Russell said. “It’s just like when your grandmother mixed fat and lye to make soap.”

Technology licensed and used in U.S.

Pennsylvania-based Murray’s Chickens is the first poultry processor in the United States to use the UGA EO process to kill pathogens, Hung said. EAU Technology holds the license on the UGA technology.

"In mass production, this technology would be very cost effective," Hung said. "When you want to use it, you push a button. You don't have to worry with mixing up concentrated liquids, and it's more effective than chlorine rinses."

In his laboratory on the UGA Griffin, Ga., Campus, Hung has found the acidic water effectively kills harmful bacteria on eggs, apples, lettuce and cutting boards. The alkaline water is a useful general cleanser.

Widely used in Japan and Korea

The technology is widely used in Japan to sanitize dental and medical equipment. Many Japanese homes have EO washing machines that need no detergent. Koreans use it in dishwashers.

In the U.S., the wholesale and retail cut flower industry uses the water to prevent the spread of diseases and extend shelf life. “And the water doesn’t have to be changed every day,” Hung said.

Hung hopes to see the technology used in U.S. fast food restaurants.

“We’ve had several outbreaks of foodborne illness related to fast food. This could help prevent future cases,” Hung said.

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.