A new naturally-occurring preservative that could be added to food during processing has the potential to kill deadly pathogens and extend shelf life, said the US scientists behind the discovery.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota said they have found a novel lantibiotic - a peptide produced by a harmless bacterium - that is the first natural preservative with the ability to kill gram negative bacteria,such as E.coli, salmonella and listeria.
Lantibiotics currently available to industry only combat gram positive bacteria and are ineffective against gram negative varieties, they said.
The team told FoodProductionDaily.com they expected the product to come to market in three years.
Gram negative bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella, account for more than half of food recalls in the US that cost food producers an estimated $1.4bn in 2010. Some 28 per cent of the annual 3,000 deaths from foodborne illnesses are linked to Salmonella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The lantibiotic strain, called Bisin, was uncovered by chance and developed from a culture of Bifodobacterium longum that is commonly found in the human intestine.
Dan O’Sullivan, professor of food science and nutrition in the university's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, said the strain could be used to prevent harmful bacteria in meats, processed cheeses, egg and dairy products, canned foods, seafood, salad dressing, fermented beverages and many other foods.
A further advantage is that lantibiotics are easily digestible, non-toxic, non-allergenic allergies and are difficult for bacteria to develop resistance against, said the scientists.
“It’s aimed at protecting foods from a broad range of bugs that cause disease,” said Dr O’Sullivan. “Of the natural preservatives, it has a broader umbrella of bugs that it can protect against.”
The team of O’Sullivan and graduate student Ju-Hoon Lee have received a patent for the substance. Research is currently underway to determine optimal growth conditions and the precise ability of the preservative to inhibit microbial activity.
The lantibiotic falls within the GRAS (generally recognised as safe) category. However, if its potential as a naturally occurring antibiotic were developed it would require approval from the US Food And Drug Administration, she added.