The Power of Peroxide

By Craig Gustafson

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a powerful oxidizing agent.

So, considering that this is a health-oriented magazine and not a chemistry textbook, why would this matter?

The answer is relatively simple: In a world where we circulate lists of “The Dirty Dozen” foods in the produce aisle and the combination of toxins and poor nutrition have over-burdened our immune systems, the oxidizing power of hydrogen peroxide offers a green weapon against pathogens and some toxic substances.

Although the compound is unstable (it readily gives up one of its oxygen atoms to form water and O2), it occurs naturally as rain passes through atmospheric ozone (O2) and hijacks an oxygen atom to form H2O2 + O2. Curiously enough, it is also produced by both plants and animals as part of these organisms’ defenses against infection.

Researchers observing zebrafish found that when injured, their bodies released hydrogen peroxide at the site of the wound, which was followed by large numbers of white blood cells. To confirm a connection between the white blood cells’ response and the hydrogen peroxide, they neutralized the hydrogen peroxide response of the fish and observed that no white blood cells responded to new injuries.

Although this response has not been clinically demonstrated in humans, it is known that white blood cells produce and release hydrogen peroxide, as well as within other cells where hydrogen peroxide at low levels is used to control pathogens.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) gave hydrogen peroxide GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status, and has approved it for use in producing food and sanitizing packaging.

Hydrogen peroxide can be used to sanitize food in your home— reducing both pathogens such as mold, fungus, and bacteria, and toxins, such as metals and pesticides, through oxidation.

Before you begin using hydrogen peroxide, there are two issues that must be discussed. First, the typical drug-store varieties may contain stabilizers that are not meant for food contact. It is best to seek out a food-grade quality. Second, food-grade quality often comes in high concentrations, such as 35-percent or 50 percent solutions in water.

At these concentrations, the oxidative power of hydrogen peroxide requires precautions similar to using strong household chemicals. Do not allow this to come into contact with your body, as it may cause burns. It can remove color from many materials and will oxidize metals such as cast iron. Typical drug-store concentration is 3 percent, and even that strength should be diluted for many uses. Handle hydrogen peroxide carefully.

There are two ways you can use hydrogen peroxide to clean and sanitize your food.

As a soak: Fill a sink with cold water and add 1/4 cup of 3-percent (food-grade) hydrogen peroxide. Soak thin-skinned or delicate foods for 20 minutes, meat and thick-skinned vegetables for 30 minutes. To prevent cross-contamination, soak meat in large bowls in the refrigerator rather than the sink.

As a spray: Purchase two new spray bottles that block out light. Fill one with vinegar and the other with 3-percent, food-grade hydrogen peroxide. Spray surfaces of food with vinegar, then hydrogen peroxide. Allow a few minutes for it to do its job, then rinse under cold water.