Sanitizing Produce Against Food Poisoning Becoming Easy with Cheers!

Mike Koon, Engineering Communications Office

“When you wash your hands every day, you don’t just do so with water so why do we typically wash our food with just water?” asks Xinyu He, a junior chemical and biomolecular (ChemE) major at the University of Illinois.

 He notes that of the 50 million cases of food poisoning in the United States each year, 46 percent come from produce. So He and fellow ChemE major Michael Richards took to the lab to develop a non-toxic agent that can be applied to foods to eliminate microorganisms that lead to food borne illnesses. He and Richards have formed a company called Cheers! and have been successful in finding that agent, ProSans (produce sanitizer)

“We did a lot of research on what compounds will kill certain kinds of viruses and comparing that list with the most common viruses and bacteria that cause food borne illness to figure out what solution would be the most effective,” Richards said. “Everything in ProSans is non-toxic and most can be extracted from current food products. It’s a combination that really makes it a powerful cocktail for eliminating the damaging microorganisms.”

“It’s not like an antibiotic, which generates super bacteria,” added He. “Ours kills through penetrating lipid bilayers because all single-cell organisms have this.”

The Cheers! team anticipates a finished product that would sell for $5-6 in either a spray bottle, for primarily home usage, or a wipe, which is more ideal for travel.

“Beyond the simple health aspect, I think it could have a huge impact on society,” Richards added. “Not only will it save people money from hospitalization bills and medication costs, but will also save in terms of productivity loss, which will have an impact on the overall economy.”

Cheers! is working through a number of independent labs to verify the product’s effectiveness, anticipating that process to take around three months. Once complete, they will start contracting large chemical companies to produce the product. He and Richards believe approval from the FDA will be straightforward since all the compounds come from existing sources.

“We’re hoping to start getting some direct sales to local vendors by the end of the summer, whether it be at farmers markets or small grocery stores,” Richards said. “Following that we will use on-line retailers like Amazon as well as a web site to help funnel distribution.”

So where exactly did the name Cheers! originate?

“When you say ‘Cheers’ and raise a cup to someone, it’s usually for good health,” He said. “We’re a wellness company for a healthier future. There is a trend that in order to be more healthy, it’s important to be conscious about where you’re food is coming from. We are hoping that using our product becomes more a standard safety practice, which would mean we could eliminate about half of all food poisoning cases.”