From olives to all-purpose

Orland farmer’s organic sanitizer has growing list of uses, from rinsing lettuce to killing warts

Merritt Erickson, 65, believes his product, Organic Chico Wash, has serious growth potential.

Merritt Erickson, 65, believes his product, Organic Chico Wash, has serious growth potential.


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Merritt Erickson is a farmer through and through. When giving directions to his home, which stands next to a classic red barn outside of Orland, he says to “take a right at the oranges.” He’s lived on his family’s farm his whole life. At 65 years old, his weathered face and hands tell of countless hours spent working in the sun, but he still loves midsummer heat in the Sacramento Valley.

“You just get used to it,” he says.

Naturally, the entrepreneurial idea that has shaped Erickson’s life over the past decade struck him during a nap he took after riding his tractor, he writes in his book, God’s Ancient Biblical Mystery Revealed in a Dream: Who Killed My E. Coli? Since that moment in 2003, he’s dedicated himself to developing, testing and, now, marketing his general-purpose sanitizer, Organic Chico Wash, for which he sees applications from agriculture to cosmetics and from livestock to human health. His initially modest vision has expanded dramatically, and this is the year he believes profits will start rolling in for his company, E3 Organics Inc.

The concept has roots in one of the crops Erickson used to grow and sell for a living—olives. More than a decade ago, he approached Chico State chemistry professor Jim Postma intending to develop a solution that would keep his home-cured olives fresh year-round. He envisioned a potential market for olive connoisseurs who wanted to do the curing themselves.

Subsequent commercial testing found that the citric-acid-based formula Erickson and Postma produced not only preserved olives, it also killed salmonella, E. coli and listeria. In 2010, when OC Wash received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as a sanitizing rinse for raw meats and leafy greens, Erickson was convinced he had a marketable product.

So he went all-in and sold most of his family’s 125 acres of farmland, and has since invested more than $1 million into testing alone.

Erickson now touts OC Wash as something of a cure-all, extolling its usefulness at varying strengths as a hand sanitizer; a hard-surface disinfectant; an animal wash for ticks and fleas; a deodorizer for clothing and footwear; a cleaner for shower heads and coffee makers; a fungicide for trees, other plants and soil; and a remedy for warts, ringworm, athlete’s foot and cold sores.

Outside of lab testing, Erickson has experimented by trial and error. He’s killed trees on his property to find the perfect water-to-solution ratio for treating plant diseases, such as leaf curl, and has gotten the acidic liquid in his eyes on more than one occasion. He says that “it burns, but won’t harm you.”

He’s also used OC Wash to treat personal ailments.

“I had toenail fungus and warts,” he said. “I asked [Postma] if I could use [OC Wash]. He said, ‘Well, it’s not going to hurt you—the same ingredients are in your body. Go ahead and try it.’”

After applying the solution in the morning and evening for several weeks, he was cured of the conditions. More recently, he went a step further, applying the formula to keratosis—a skin growth that can become cancerous—on his face. (He did so without consulting a physician.)

“It kept on growing right here,” he said, gesturing toward his temple. “Then I started scratching it, putting the formula on it, and it took it off right away. Didn’t even leave a scar.”

Erickson says the solution also has potential application as an antimicrobial ingredient in cosmetic products, in place of alcohol. (It was determined effective for that purpose in September 2013 by Micro Quality Labs in Burbank.)

In agricultural settings, Erickson sees OC Wash as a nontoxic alternative to chlorine—the food industry’s standard rinse. For example, the wash has been used for cleaning out the lines of dairy equipment, including teat dips and udder-washers for cows and goats, in addition to rinsing raw nuts and leafy greens. It’s cheaper, he says, because OC Wash can be reused repeatedly, while chlorine becomes less effective as it picks up dirt. In two separate studies, the University of Arizona determined that OC Wash reduces microflora on organic baby spinach and organic lettuce—even after 30 reuses.

“Everything that chlorine can do, we can do,” Erickson said.

Erickson recently made a major breakthrough in growing E3 Organics. He signed a contract with chemical-production giant Brenntag, which is headquartered in Germany and operates in 72 countries, to produce Organic Chico Wash and speedily deliver it to customers all over the world. Previously, he’d been producing it in relatively small batches at his home, and would often have to tell customers that shipping could take up to two weeks.

He’s also attempting to put OC Wash on the shelves of big department stores like Target and Walmart, though that process can take up to 18 months, he said. And Erickson recently filed a patent for a specialized bottle cap that will release either the liquid or powdered forms of the solution into a spray bottle.

After years of testing, this is the first time Erickson is making a real push to sell OC Wash, and the early returns have been highly encouraging—especially for a self-described farm boy.

“The last month of sales was more than what we did all of last year,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”