Hillel Academy


Hillel Academy Student First Tested Spinach For Science Fair

By Stacey Dresner
Published: Wednesday, October 4, 2006 12:06 PM EDT

FAIRFIELD -- When it was reported last month that the bacteria E. coli had been found in bags of fresh spinach, many consumers were surprised.

But not Kaili Janette.

Last year, when she was an eighth grader at Hillel Academy in Fairfield, Kaili entered the Connecticut State Science Fair with a project based on the bacteria content of bagged salads and spinach.

“Last year I heard some rumors going around about how some people were getting sick and scientists thought that the illness was coming from these convenient packaged salads,” explained Kaili, now a ninth grader at the Hebrew High School of New England in West Hartford. “This caught my attention and I decided that I wanted to look more into the issue for my science fair project.”

Kaili was named a finalist in the Connecticut State Science Fair, where she earned several awards for her work on the project.

In her project, “Quantitative Analysis of Bacterial Growth on Packaged Salads and Effect on Antibiotic Resistance and Nutrient Content,” Kaili investigated several varieties of bagged salad greens.

She tested the bagged greens for bacteria content, and found “extensive growth of bacteria within 24 hours in the fresh “unwashed” samples.”

“I found the highest percents of bacteria in dark, leafy varieties such as spinach and Mediterranean” showing “a correlation between high levels of iron and high levels of bacteria.”

She washed the samples using different cleaning techniques n cleaning with sterile water, cooking with boiling water for five minutes, and using commercial cleaning rinse n water with a pinch of bleach. The only method that killed most of the bacteria was the commercial rinse. The others did not really inhibit bacterial growth.

“On all of bagged salads, it is printed that you do not need to wash before use,” she said. “I learned never to trust that phrase.”

Kaili also used antibiotics to try to kill the bacteria, but found that that treating the greens with antibiotics showed “minimal long-term effectiveness.”

What did she think when she saw the recent news reports about tainted bags of spinach?

“I was shocked and in a strange way pleased that the issue had finally become public so that it will have to be fixed,” she said.

Comment? Email Staceydresner@jewishledger.com