Salmonella, a common bacterial cause of food poisoning, may have met its match in chives, a common herb.

Scientists in Greensboro, N.C., bought chives at a local store. Back at their lab, the researchers pulverized and purified the chives into an extract.

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In lab tests, the chive extract showed “strong antibacterial activity” against 38 strains of salmonella, write the researchers. They included Salam Ibrahim, PhD, of the food science and nutrition department at North Carolina A&T State University.

Ibrahim’s team has studied the bacteria-fighting abilities of various plants. “Chives appear to be especially potent,” the researchers write. Their study was presented in Atlanta at the American Chemical Society’s National Meeting & Exposition.

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Lesson for Cooks?

If you add some chives to your next meal, don’t count on it to kill salmonella.

The researchers tested the extract on salmonella in a lab, not on unsafe foods such as undercooked meat, runny eggs, or past-their-prime leftovers. The golden rules of food safety -- like washing your hands, cooking and storing food properly, and throwing out questionable items -- still apply.

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Copying Ibrahim’s technique also requires lots of chives. How many? The study doesn’t say.

“The amount a consumer would need to use to counteract foodborne pathogens would be very high -- probably much more than most consumers would find to be appetizing,” write Ibrahim and colleagues. “Nevertheless, it certainly can’t hurt for consumers to expand their use of chives in cooking.”

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One day, chives might be used to cut down on chemical preservatives in processed foods, the researchers note. They plan to pair chives with other bacteria-fighting ingredients in future studies.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, Atlanta, March 26-30, 2006. News release, American Chemical Society.