Household bleach can decontaminate food prep surfaces in ricin bioterrorist attack

March 29, 2011

Help for a bioterrorist attack involving ricin, one of the most likely toxic agents, may be as close at hand as the laundry shelf, according to a report presented here today at the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). It concluded that ordinary household bleach appears to be an effective, low-cost, and widely available way to decontaminate food preparation surfaces in homes, restaurants, and processing plants that are tainted with ricin.

Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans, which are grown and processed throughout the world to produce castor oil. Although no longer widely used as a laxative, castor oil remains a key raw material in the manufacture of soaps, paints, dyes, inks, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluids, and other products. Ricin occurs in the waste "mash" left behind after production of castor oil. Because it is so easy to obtain and so toxic, with no , experts regard ricin as one of the most likely bioterror agents.

"This discovery is important because it provides a practical, readily available way to inactivate ricin on food processing equipment in the event of an intentional contamination event," said Lauren Jackson, Ph.D., who reported on the research. "It is the first study to explore ricin in the presence of food, and it shows that household bleach is effective."

Jackson and colleagues prepared solutions of bleach and two other substances routinely used at food processing plants to disinfect counters, machinery and other surfaces that may contain or viruses. The other disinfectants were peroxyacetic acid (PAA) and so-called quaternary ammonium compounds. In one set of experiments, they tested the substances on discs of stainless steel smeared with milk-based infant formula, pancake mix, peanut butter and other foods that contained ricin. They also tested the three disinfectants on a "control" solution containing ricin, but without any food, to make sure it was the that inactivated ricin and not something present in the foods.

Household bleach turned out to be the most effective anti-ricin agent. Bleach significantly reduced the toxicity of ricin within five minutes, noted Jackson, a research food technologist with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Summit-Argo, Ill. Bleach completely eliminated ricin in the "control" samples using just a small amount of bleach. PAA also showed effectiveness, but less so than bleach.

Explore further: Ricin's deadly action revealed by glowing probes

Related Stories

Ricin's deadly action revealed by glowing probes

August 7, 2008

A new chemical probe can rapidly detect ricin, a deadly poison with no known antidote that is feared to be a potential weapon for terrorists and cannot quickly be identified with currently available tests.

What are protective effects of anti-ricin A-chain aptamer?

December 29, 2008

Ricin, a lectin from the castor bean plant Ricinus communis is considered one of the most potent plant toxins. Ricin poisoning can cause severe tissue damage and inflammation and can result in death. Most accidental exposures ...

Researchers devise a fast and sensitive way to detect ricin

April 8, 2009

Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have developed a simple, accurate, and highly sensitive test to detect and quantify ricin, an extremely potent toxin with potential use as a bioterrorism ...

NIST researchers 'all aglow' over new test of toxin strength

June 17, 2009

A new National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) assay using a “glow or no glow” technique may soon help the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defend the nation against a spectrum of biological weapons ...

Recommended for you

New polymer creates safer fuels

October 1, 2015

Before embarking on a transcontinental journey, jet airplanes fill up with tens of thousands of gallons of fuel. In the event of a crash, such large quantities of fuel increase the severity of an explosion upon impact. Researchers ...

Researchers print inside gels to create unique shapes

September 30, 2015

(—A team of researchers at the University of Florida has taken the technique of printing objects inside of a gel a step further by using a highly shear-rate sensitive gel. In their paper published in the journal ...

How a molecular motor untangles protein

October 1, 2015

A marvelous molecular motor that untangles protein in bacteria may sound interesting, yet perhaps not so important. Until you consider the hallmarks of several neurodegenerative diseases—Huntington's disease has tangled ...

Anti-aging treatment for smart windows

October 1, 2015

Electrochromic windows, so-called 'smart windows', share a well-known problem with rechargeable batteries – their limited lifespan. Researchers at Uppsala University have now worked out an entirely new way to rejuvenate ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 01, 2011
I practice household product chemistry. I am disturbed by manufacturers hiding their active ingredients in ever deeper layers of obfuscation.

I suspect that here, as 'quaternary ammonium compounds', benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, methylbenzethonium chloride, cetalkonium chloride, cetylpyridinium chloride, cetrimonium, cetrimide, dofanium chloride, tetraethylammonium bromide, and domiphen bromide are meant.

PAA peroxyacetic acid is, just as it sounds, prepared by reacting acetic acid (vinegar) with H2O2 in the presence of a H2SO4 catalyst.

Household bleach is properly a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite with just a hint of sodium hydroxide to maintain the high pH and prevent premature disassociation to sodium chlorate and sodium cloride, salt.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.