A University of Guelph food scientist is part of a team that has made a breakthrough in finding a safe, effective way to decontaminate seeds used to produce bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts and other types of sprouts — culprits in several major food-borne illness outbreaks around the world.

Prof. Keith Warriner and his four colleagues have developed a sanitizer made of the same chemical used in toothpaste and contact lens solutions that is harmless to the sprouting seed but lethal to pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7. Their research is published today in the Journal of Food Protection.

"We developed a sanitizer that you just add to the steep water when the seeds start to germinate," said Warriner. "No one has ever done this before because if you add most sanitizers to the steep water, not only would the pathogens be killed, but also the developing sprouts. The secret of our development is that it’s phytocompatible — it doesn’t affect plant tissue; it affects only pathogens."