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For Microbial Safety, Nothing Beats a Peep

POSTED BY Admin User | 4 minute read

Pushing the boundaries of microbial testing is what we do, but the annual Easter holiday always brings a reminder that we aren't the only ones who are tough on microorganisms. Even our Growth Direct® System, with its ability to electronically detect microbial colonies just a hundred cells in size, would have a hard time finding anything that can threaten the safety of the ultimate culture warrior, those little marshmallow Peeps that children gobble by the millions each spring. shutterstock_1329427817It's not a surprise that a confection made almost entirely of sugar should enjoy a long shelf life without refrigeration or cooking, especially one that comes in colors that are only natural for highlighters. After all, the two-year shelf life of these rainbow-hued chicks and bunnies is part of what makes Peeps a favored centerpiece in Easter baskets and craft projects that can endure long enough to become dusty heirlooms. But even as children and foodies consume some 2 billion Peeps a year and stuff themselves during kitschy pursuits such as the "100 Peeps Challenge," scientists and academics have also found them a sweet topic for research. 

For example:

  • West Virginia University mycologist Dr. Matt Kasson delighted Twitter followers with an experiment in which he injected Peeps with 12 different fungi. None could successfully colonize the Peeps. It was only after Kasson soaked the marshmallow treats in water for 24 hours that fungal growth of Rhizopus, Aspergillus, and Penicillium could finally degrade the substrate, leaving behind the vacant waxy eyes.
  • Emory University has long been a center of Peeps research, with academics noting that Peeps resist dissolution by cold water, hot water, alcohol, acetone, concentrated stomach acid, and drain cleaner. Putting these properties to the test is a highlight for Emory chemistry students, as shown by this classroom video

Media outlets such as the New York Times and Business Insider have also noted the resilience of this cheery treat. Manufactured in scalding hot temperatures with a proprietary process combining sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, tartrazine, potassium sorbate, and edible carnauba wax, Peeps can easily handle osmolarities that would cause E. coli to shrivel up like a raisin and die. One of the few examples of Peep kryptonite is Phenol. It quickly melts Peeps down to a gooey primordial stew, leaving only those unnerving wax eyes staring up from the bottom of test beakers. 

So, if you're in the mood to salute a fellow warrior in the battle against microbial contamination, don't pass up that forlorn Peep nestled in the cellophane grass of a leftover Easter basket. Take a bite. And if you're not hungry now, don't worry. It'll stay fresh until later.