Chlorine dioxide gas kills dangerous biological contaminants

September 12, 2002

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The same sanitizing agent used to rid federal office buildings of anthrax -- chlorine dioxide gas -- can effectively eliminate deadly bacteria from apples and other fruits and vegetables, according to Purdue University researchers.

Scientists at Purdue began experiments using the gas to kill pathogens found on food long before anthrax was detected in mail sent to offices in New York and Washington, D.C., shortly after the terrorist attacks one year ago. The latest university test measured how effectively different potencies of chlorine dioxide (ClO2) gas used over various periods of time could kill Listeria monocytogenes cells on apples.

Results of the study, published in the September issue of Food Microbiology, demonstrated that the vapor was able to eradicate all of the contaminant on the fruit's skin and significantly reduce the bacteria in the stem cavity and the calyx, said Richard Linton, director of Purdue's Center for Food Safety Engineering and senior author. The calyx is the apple's bottom, directly opposite from the stem cavity.

"We see more and more cases of food-borne diseases associated with fruits and vegetables," Linton said. "Some of this is because we encourage people, especially children and the elderly, to eat more and more of these types of foods for added health benefits. Yet these are two of the groups most susceptible to bacteria on food.

"Just 10 to 100 cells of Listeria on a piece of food can cause illness, and it's possible for 1,000 to 10,000 cells to be on a piece of fruit. We need to develop ways to make food safer; traditional sanitation methods to remove pathogens are not effective enough to meet these new standards."

Although Listeria is relatively rare, it is considered the most deadly of the food-borne pathogens with a 20 percent fatality rate. The Clinton administration issued a "no tolerance" edict for Listeria in processed and ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, and in dairy products. Under the policy, if one organism is found on a piece of food, the whole batch must be discarded and/or recalled from stores, warehouses and consumers' shelves.

In addition, the FDA requires that sanitizers be effective enough to reduce organisms by at least 100,000 fold for Listeria, E. coli O157:H7, and Salmonella. In this study, Linton and his team achieved this level of Listeria elimination on the apple skin. Even on the stem cavity and calyx, the gas reduced the pathogen to a far greater extent than currently possible with other methods.

Another of the paper's authors, Purdue food science researcher Yingchan Han, said one reason Listeria was used for the study is because it's hardy; it can survive in refrigeration and is difficult to inactivate.

"Using the chlorine dioxide gas makes it possible to reduce the bacteria before the apples are cut up or mashed, a significant breakthrough for decontamination processes at small juice-producing companies," Han said. "They often don't have the pasteurization heating systems necessary to meet USDA requirements for eliminating biological contaminants. These processors produce unpasteurized juice."

The chlorine dioxide process is "extraordinarily" better than other chemical methods of eliminating pathogens on produce, he said.

In the current research, the chlorine dioxide gas, used at a concentration of 4 mg per liter for 30 minutes, lowered the Listeria organisms a minimum of more than 1,000-fold for all three areas of apple tested. On the pulp, the average was more than a 100,000-fold reduction. These results support previous test results when Purdue scientists used the gas to sanitize green peppers.

Linton said the gas is so effective because it's a strong oxidizing agent.

"Oxidizing agents disrupt the cell membrane, in this case of the bacteria, and this causes the cell to die," he said. "The chlorine dioxide gas is 1,000 times more effective than any other method tried so far for eliminating food-borne pathogens."

He and Han said they don't believe this process will work well on already cut fruits and vegetables, and not at all for some varieties, such as lettuce, because it would likely affect the color. However, they will be testing the gas on other pathogens, such as Salmonella or E. coli, and on other foods. They also will be determining ways to make the process viable for use by commercial food producers.
The other scientist involved in this study was Jinhua Du.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded this research.

Purdue's Center for Food Safety Engineering includes nearly 90 university scientists collaborating with USDA-Agricultural Research Service scientists to find faster, more exact ways to detect biological and chemical food-borne contaminants and to protect against them. Writer: Susan A. Steeves, 765-496-7481,

Sources: Richard Linton, 765-494-6481,
Yingchang Han, 765-494-8267,

Purdue University News Service
1132 Engineering Administration Building
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1132
Voice: 765-494-2096
FAX: 765-494-0401

Related Web sites:
Center for Food Safety Engineering:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
USDA Agricultural Research Service:
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service:


Inactivation by chlorine dioxide gas (ClO2) of Listeria monocytogenes spotted onto different apple surfaces

Jinhua Du, Y. Han and R.H. Linton

The bactericidal effects of chlorine dioxide (ClO2) gas treatments on a mixture of three strains of Listeria monocytogenes (Scott A, F5069 and LCDC 81-886) spotted on to the calyx, stem cavity and pulp surface of apples were investigated at 21oC and 90 percent relative humidity (RH). ClO2 gas was more effective for inactivating the bacteria attached to pulp skin than those attached to the calyx or stem cavity at a ClO2 level of 4.0 mg/L and a treatment time of 10 or more minutes. After treatments of 1.0-4.0 mg/L ClO2 for 10 min, a 2-3 log reduction of L. monocytogenes were observed on both cavities. There were 4.3±0.2 and 4.3±1.1 log reductions of L. monocytogenes achieved on the calyx and stem cavities, respectively, by a 4.0 mg/L ClO2 gas treatment for 30 min. After treatment of 8.0 mg/L ClO2 for 30 min, no survivors were detected using an end point method for 3.6-5.3 log cfu/spotted site on the calyx cavity and 3.5-5.0 log cfu/spotted site on the stem cavity. No significant differences (p>0.05) were found between bacterial log reductions on pulp skin at 1.0 or 3.0 mg/L ClO2 gas treatment for 10 min. When the ClO2 level was increased to 4.0 mg/L for 10 min, a 5.5±1.0 log cfu/spotted site bacteria on pulp skin was inactivated. After 4.0 mg/L ClO2 gas for 30 min, L. monocytogenes levels on the pulp skin could be decreased by 3.9±0.0 to 6.5±0.1 log cfu/spotted site using an end point determination method. ClO2 gas was a potentially powerful sanitizer for inactivating L. monocytogenes on each apple surface, especially those attached to the pulp skin.

Purdue University

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.

Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.

Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.

Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.

How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.

The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to