Natural food and plant based bioactives offer alternative strategies for food safety
Thursday 23 August 2007Chemists and food scientists at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, joined forces to develop natural approaches to the prevention of food contamination and spoilage.
The researchers employed natural antimicrobial agents derived from sources such as cloves, oregano, thyme and paprika to create novel biodegradable polymers or plastics to potentially block the formation of bacterial biofilms on food surfaces and packaging.
Typically, a variety of bacteria will congregate on a surface to form a bacterial community that exists as a slime-like matrix referred to as a biofilm. This kind of bacterial community is often described as being polymicrobial; it harbors multiple versions of infectious, disease-causing bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli.
“We mated natural substances with controlled-release, biodegradable polymers that could inhibit or prevent the formation of bacterial biofilms,” explained Ashley Carbone, a graduate student at Rutgers who constructed the polymer compounds that were tested.
This approach offers a number of advantages. The diversity of polymicrobial biofilms makes them difficult to defeat, with each type of microbe presenting a unique challenge to health and hygiene, explained Kathryn Uhrich, professor of chemistry and chemical biology and Carbone’s adviser.
“The natural substances we chose have general antimicrobial activities against many different kinds of microorganisms,” Uhrich said. “Therefore, the polymers into which we incorporated these natural substances have the potential to affect a much broader spectrum of microorganisms than organism-specific drugs,” Uhrich said. Another advantage comes out of the Rutgers researchers’ decision to focus on the biofilms, rather than attempting to attack the individual bacteria. This avoids the potential of increasing the antimicrobial resistance of specific bacteria, an emerging problem in medical circles brought on by the overprescription of antibiotics.
“If consumers buy products containing our natural bioactives, they will benefit from all the positive factors that come along with our new strategy for food safety,” said Michael Chikindas, associate professor of food science at Rutgers and a co-investigator on the project. “They will be eating foods that are safer for longer periods of time; they will not be expanding antibiotic resistance; and they will not be adding to their bodies’ synthetic chemical load.”
As a bonus, some of the antimicrobials carry some of the flavors and aromas of the sources from which they were derived. “The food people eat might even smell and taste better,” Chikindas said.