HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Four Moanalua High School students are in Washington D.C. for a national science competition with a 25-thousand dollar prize.
Their experiment was inspired by a surge in disease outbreaks linked to bacteria and produce.
Store-bought fruits and vegetables were put to the test by a Moanalua team from the Mene Mac Learning Academy, 9th graders Madison Badua, Jonas Maestro, Nainoa Chun, and Kaye Anne Labtingao.
A PSA produced by their team named "Mene Einsteins" asks, "Did you know you could sick from eating unwashed produce?"
Their experiment earned them a trip to the eCYBERMISSION national finals in Washington D.C.
Madison Badua explained, "We bought lettuce, tomatoes and apples from 3 different environments. We chose Chinatown, local grocery stores and prepackaged."
They then swabbed the produce and watched what turned up in petri dishes.
They found little bacterial growth on a pre-packaged apple after day one, but plenty of bacteria on the regular apple, and fruit bought in Chinatown.
Their pictures show the bacteria multiplying in days 2 and 3.
Growth progressed in a similar fashion for the regular tomato, over 72 hours.
Once again, the Chinatown tomato turned up the most bacteria.
The team illustrates bacteria undetected to the naked eye with highlight marks on plastic fruit, that flare up under a black light.
"You can actually see dots we've made" explains Jonas Maestro. "Those represent the amount of bacteria on them before we actually eat."
Their biggest surprise came with the pre-packaged lettuce. Badua added, "It says pre-washed ready to eat and we found it has a lot of bacteria."
In this case, the regular lettuce from a local grocery store had more growth than the one purchased in Chinatown.
The team says win or lose in Washington, they learned a valuable lesson.
Nainoa Chun said, "I kind of like watch my parents and make sure they wash it thoroughly and buy it from certain areas."
The team took first place in the State of Hawaii and Western Regional competitions. They have already won $12,000 for their work, and could win another $25,000 in the finals.