BUYER BEWARE:Things May Not Be What They Seem in the Produce Department!

At the risk of you thinking me a real "Debby Downer," I want to remind you of something I wrote about almost 10 years ago (because the situation hasn't improved one whit!):

Were you aware that grocery stores and restaurants spray produce with a chemical to keep it attractive and fresh looking? Another, but related question: Have you ever eaten from a restaurant salad bar and had you lips feel fat and tingly afterward? If so, you've likely had an allergic reaction to the chemical that was used to keep the salad bar looking pretty.

Sterilox, or Aqualox or Aquatine EC (all the same thing, just different names) is the chemical being sprayed on produce so it will look appetizing for long durations. It is salt added to water, then electrified to break the bond between the sodium and chloride.

The result is hypochlorous acid or "free chlorine," meant for disinfecting produce. It is used in the process known as "crisping" (submersion of the produce in water to refresh and to reverse wilting) and misting within the produce case. It is even put on cut fruit for display. The floral stand and seafood department at your stores may also use it.

This "free chlorine" keeps produce looking fresher longer on the shelf; good for business. It is labeled a "green technology" and it's even used on organic produce in some stores. Manufacturers of the product claim the hypochlorous acid is safe to ingest and safe for the environment.

But what we need to understand is that hypochlorous acid is chlorine, meant to kill pathogens. The company, who makes the product and the equipment for spraying it, Puricore, says hypochlorous acid is the same chemistry that our body uses to deal with pathogens.

NOT quite, but I'll spare you all the science and chemistry and just say the amount of hypochlorous acid on a head of lettuce is thousands of times more potent than what we have in our entire body. The main point Puricore claims regarding safety is that this "free Chlorine" has a pH of 5 to 7 and that "common bleach" has a pH of 7.4.

BIG Oops here, folks. This just may be about concentration or in this case mixing the hypochlorous acid with lots of water. Anything with a pH of 5 will do some damage if put on your skin, so how safe is that? And we can be sure the concentration being sprayed on produce isn't as low as a pH of 5. Bottom line? Chlorine has been found to be carcinogenic and toxic and has no place on our food or in our water for that matter.

All this makes for yet another argument for patronizing farmers markets as much as we can. These folks are dedicated to bringing customers fresh, nutrient-rich produce. Let's support them.

Also, we ought to be asking our store produce managers if they are using this gunk on their produce, and voicing our disapproval if they do. Finally, it's really worth our while to scout out stores that don't resort to this unhealthy tactic.


    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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