How many organisms do you know that can survive being born into scalding hot temperatures that would fry lesser beings into charcoal? How many of those can also handle osmolarities that would cause E. coli to shrivel up like a raisin and die? And how many of those could stand the indignity of being covered in pink sugar glitter and shaped into a quasi-amorphous chicken-esque blob? I’m not talking about thermophiles. I’m not talking about spores. I’m talking about Peeps; those “delicious” (as an objective blogger, I’ll refrain from judgment about the culinary qualities of the subject at hand) marshmallow treats so often seen around this time of the year.
Now you may be thinking, “What on Earth do Peeps have to do with Microbiology?!” Let me tell you. With the season of barbecues, picnics and seasonal food poisoning upon us, you may be starting to see the obligate news blurbs about proper food handling and storage popping up here and there across the internet. As a Microbiologist trained in infectious disease and deeply involved in microbial testing, you won’t see me complaining about educational articles on food safety! However, with all these rules about internal temperatures of turkey breasts and keeping potato salad on ice, I thought it might be nice to take a minute and appreciate those special foods (I use the term “food” loosely) that require no refrigeration and no cooking, yet still manage to maintain an enviable shelf life of up to two years!
With 7 grams of sugar out of a total weight of 8.4 grams, it’s no wonder that these fluffy chicks can last almost indefinitely. According to a 1999 research study at Emory University, these mysterious confections are resistant to being dissolved in cold water, hot water, alcohol, acetone, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide! These scientists did determine one weakness in the chemical makeup of Peeps: phenol. Phenol melted the peeps down to a gooey primordial Peep-stew, leaving only two sad wax Peep eyes staring up from the bottom of the test beaker. (For more information on this fascinating study, see www.peepresearch.org).
The season for Easter candy has come and gone, but if you’ve still got a basket sitting around filled with cellophane grass and a few lonely, leftover Peeps, feel free to indulge in a bite. Provided your Easter basket isn’t filled with Phenol (and with scientists, you never really know), those leftover Peeps should still be safe to eat until well into 2013! I’ve had cars that didn’t last that long.
Rapid Micro Biosystems