Bleach can be used to fight ricin, research shows

Bleach can be used as an effective, low cost and widely available means to clean and decontaminate food surfaces in homes, restaurants and processing facilities that have been exposed to the deadly toxin ricin.

The announcement regarding the cleanup of one of the most likely agents to be used in a bioterrorist attack was made at the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, according to

Ricin is a toxin found naturally in the castor bean, which is grown and processed throughout the globe to produce castor oil. Castor oil, though now rarely used as a purgative, is still a common ingredient in the manufacture of soaps, paints, dyes, inks, lubricants and brake fluid.

Ricin is easily obtained from the leftovers of castor oil production, and, since there is no known antidote, experts believe it is one of the most likely toxins to be used as a bioterror agent.

In the study, researchers prepared solutions of bleach and two other substances routinely used at food processing plants to disinfect areas that could potentially contain harmful bacteria, peroxyacetic acid and quaternary ammonium compounds, reports.

In one set of experiments, the researchers tested all of the substances on discs of stainless steel that had been smeared with a combination of milk-based baby formula, pancake mix or peanut butter, and ricin. They also tested the three substances on a “control” solution containing ricin, but without any food. This was to make sure that it was the disinfectants that deactivated the agent and not something in the food.

Regular household bleach turned out to be the most effective in neutralizing the ricin, reports. It took five minutes for the bleach to reduce the ricin’s toxicity. A very small amount of bleach eliminated the ricin in the control samples.

"This discovery is important because it provides a practical, readily available way to inactivate ricin on food processing equipment in the event of an intentional contamination event," Lauren Jackson, who reported on the research, said, according to "It is the first study to explore ricin decontamination in the presence of food, and it shows that household bleach is effective."