Cinnamon, oregano and vinegar are natural ingredients that can be used to sanitize leafy greens, according to researchers at the University of Arizona.

Scientists found that--when used with washing water--essential oils, organic sanitizers and plant extracts not only kill bacteria, but the solution can extend the shelf life of leafy greens. This new approach “sometimes even works better than bleach or hydrogen peroxide”. Additionally, these natural ingredients are:

  • environmentally friendly
  • less energy intensive since they are effective at both room and cold temperatures
  • proven to continue to kill bacteria during storage
  • their effectiveness is not reduced in the presence of organic matter
  • believed to reduce the occurrence of cancer, diabetes and high cholesterol
  • the wash water can be recycled and reused without a loss in effectiveness

The benefits don’t end there, according to Sadhana Ravishankar, associate professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences. “Plant antimicrobials can be used by consumers at home.”

Besides the ease of use on the consumer front, researchers have incorporated plant essential oils into edible films--made from apples, carrots, hibiscus or spinach pulp--that can be used in salad bags. The vapors from the oils work to kill bacteria throughout the storage period.

The outcomes of this project will benefit consumers by reducing and preventing contamination of the leafy greens by foodborne pathogens at the production and harvesting levels, providing a safer product in stores and on their tables.

Moving forward, Ravishankar and her team are testing combinations of plant antimicrobials and the effectiveness of them when the wash water is recycled.  USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is funding this new research, a four-year, $2,907,354 Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant.

OREI seeks to solve critical organic agriculture issues, priorities, or problems by integrating research, education, and extension activities. OREI-fund projects that will enhance the ability of producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards to grow and market their high quality organic agricultural products.