Scientists have suggested that extracts from natural sources such as green tea, grape seed and bacteriocins such as nisin could be alternatives for food processors instead of chemicals as a means of protecting against pathogen contamination.
Researchers for the Food Safety Consortium at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture have applied the natural extracts to chicken and turkey hot dogs with encouraging results.
"Food preservation systems often use chemicals and heat treatments to reduce the risk of bacterial food poisoning outbreaks and food spoilage," explained Navam Hettiarachchy, a UA food science professor who led the research project.
But consumers prefer minimal processing and natural tasting foods without additives. Natural extracts can accomplish the same goal without compromising taste or food safety.
"There has been increasing evidence on the antimicrobial activities of the extracts from culinary ingredients such as green tea, grape seed and spices against foodborne pathogens," Hettiarachchy said.
The studies showed that the natural plant extracts inhibited the growth of Listeria monocytogenes on the hot dogs when combined with reduced levels of chemical preservatives.
The experiment used a combination of 75 percent chemical antimicrobials and 25 percent natural plant extracts. The chemical preservatives can be partially or wholly replaced by natural plant extracts when the extracts are combined with other technologies such as heat treatment, electrostatic spraying or nanotechnology.
Among those other technologies to supplement the natural extracts, nanotechnology would likely be more effective than heat.
"If we can deliver these antimicrobials in nanoparticles, we will have better pathogen inhibition at a much lower concentration of the antimicrobial over a longer period of time," Hettiarachchy said.
"We have shown that in produce. We have conclusively demonstrated that if you encapsulate the extracts in nanoparticles you have a better pathogen reduction in the meat system."
"The food processing companies are interested in the state of the art delivery system with the natural antimicrobial extract for better pathogen control," she added.
"Industry takes time to decide."