Could killing salmonella and other microbes really be as simple as choosing the right surface to prepare food? Looks like it. University of Arizona scientists say switching to copper kitchen tools could be the ticket to curbing food borne illness and diarrheal disease worldwide.
The researchers ran a number of tests with three copper-resistant salmonella strains and one copper-sensitive strain on copper alloy samples, reports Food Safety News. In every instance, the researchers say, strains died off significantly when in contact with copper. Stainless steel—the metal most household pots and pans are made of—didn't have the same deadly effect on the strains.
Food Safety News explains that copper kills off bacteria by producing a residue that is toxic to some bacteria, including strains of salmonella and E.coli. The residue builds as copper interacts with oxygen in a process called oxidization.
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The incentive for the study was to determine if copper could be substituted for steel surfaces in food preparation.
"We did not do anything related to cooking temperatures -- we looked at other processes," Sadhana Ravishankar, Ph.D., microbiology professor at the University of Arizona and co-author on the study, told Food Safety News. "When you wash and cut vegetables, for example, you're not going to cook them, but you could prepare them on copper."
Growing up as a child in India, Ravishankar ate food cooked on copper. "We'd cook food and store it at room temperature all day in copper containers, and then we would consume it at night," she said. "Nobody got sick."
Though her childhood experience is not hard science, it is an encouraging anecdote in the quest to quell diarrheal diseases in developing countries. Salmonella is the leading cause of diarrheal illness worldwide, Ravishankar says, and copper cookware could help combat it.
The salmonella strains used in the experiments were obtained from a lab that grew salmonella that is particularly strong in withstanding copper—a positive indication that bacteria in everyday households would be thwarted even more easily.
The possibilities are dizzying. Copper cutting boards, colanders, and bowls—even refrigerator handles, doorknobs and countertops—could all become weapons in the war on pathogenic bacteria if comprised of copper.
But for now, the team is remaining cautious: their next goal is to secure funding that will help them research the risks of copper residues to humans.
What do you think? Would you switch to copper in your kitchen to safeguard your family?
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A sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, Megan likes writing about food almost as much as eating it. If you don't want to know what's in your fruit/milk/meat, don't invite her to lunch. @babybokchoy | TakePart.com