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OSU research about dishwashing yields thoughts of pork barreling

The Ohio State University recently released a study about hand washing dishes and eating utensils in restaurants. The research spawned from a Federal Food and Drug Administration study that said most regulation problems in restaurants had to do with the level of bacteria on dishware. OSU's study looked at dishwashing conditions like the water's temperature and how long food was left to dry on plates and utensils. But some think this kind of study is a poor use of federal money.

Researchers in the Ohio State University Food Science and Technology Department looked at the temperature of dishwater and the difficulty of cleaning forks. OSU received $25,000 for this study from the Center for Innovated Food Technologies, which is federally funded. The Researchers tested how hot water needs to be to adequately kill germs on dirty dishes. Melvin Pascall is one of the researchers.

"We put different food items on the utensils and we inoculated the food items with various species of bacteria. Then we looked to see how many numbers of bacteria survived on the dishes after washing at varying conditions," Pascall said.

Pascall said they found washing dishes in hot water then soaking them in sanitizers got rid of most of the bacteria. But dishes washed in soapy lukewarm water and rinsed in a stronger sanitizer were just as clean.

The study also showed forks with dried cheese or milk were harder to clean. And leaving food, especially dairy products, on eating utensils could cause bacteria to grow.

While Pascall said this study is important because it could keep bacteria off of restaurant dishes, some think it's a waste of taxpayers' money.

David Williams, with Citizens Against Government Waste, said this is another example of pork barreling.

"While this research may be interesting it really does not fall to the level of a academic research program," Williams said.

Williams said this particular study shows the problems with federal spending on research projects. While this study used only $25,000, Williams said this kind of research goes on at other universities, and it adds up. He thinks research funding should be done on a competitive basis, something he said universities are opposed to.

"Could you imagine a university going to the United States Department of Agriculture and competing against other research projects and saying well we need money to study cleaning dishes; while other research out there is more critical and crucial to the needs of the nation," Williams said.

Columbus resident Tom Gebhardt said the money for the dishwashing study was ill spent.

"I think that research that you're describing with temperature of dishwashers is something that should be monitored and regulated. But we don't need a study to know what the parameters ought to be, we just need some enforcement of the rules and regulations as they exist," Gebhardt said. Gebhardt said he would like to see money go toward studies that have to do with the quality of life, like medical research. But not everyone disagrees with the dishwashing study. Jim Hickman thinks it's useful.

"Well it sounds like a lot of money, but on the other hand if you eat out a lot you'd like to know that the utensils are clean, the dishes are clean. And so I suppose if that would actually lead to a safer environment it might not be that extravagant," Hickman said.

When told some people think this kind of research is frivolous, and asked why the dishwashing study was necessary, researcher Melvin Pascall sited the FDA's study.

"Improper cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces was the most, was the item most commonly observed to be out of compliance. And that's written in the FDA's report," Pascall said.

Pascall said the department received an additional $50,000 to study automatic dishwashers. Jim Hickman said he's going to look at his restaurant forks a little more closely now.