- Bacteriophages or phages help reduce Yersinia enterocolitica contamination in food and kitchenware
- Yersinia enterocolitica, the cause of yersiniosis, is one of the most important foodborne pathogens
- fHe-Yen9-01 phage treatment helps prevent the growth of Yersinia in pork and milk and even on utensils
Bacteriophages or phages can help eliminate Yersinia enterocolitica bacterium from food and kitchenware, reveals a new study.
Bacteria-killing viruses not only have a great impact on healthcare but also in the food industry. The research focused on bacteriophages or phages in preventing infectious diseases, as it has newly gained attention after bacterial resistance to antibiotics, which has become a global problem.
Each bacteriophage only infects a handful of bacterial species or strains, which makes them real weapons of precision in preventing bacterial diseases.
The study was conducted at the University of Helsinki and Professor Mikael Skurnik from the University has been studying bacteriophages and phage therapy for a very long time.
Now, in collaboration with scientists at the Seoul National University in South Korea, Professor Mikael Skurnik has been investigating to use phages in eradicating foodborne pathogens and in the prevention of food poisoning.
The research team mainly focused on the Yersinia enterocolitica bacterium, which is the most common cause of yersiniosis and is usually transmitted through raw or undercooked pork and milk.
Yersiniosis, an infectious disease caused by a bacterium of the genus Yersinia occurs all over the world.
The symptoms of yersiniosis include fever, severe abdominal pain, and diarrhea, which can last up to three weeks. Sometimes, yersiniosis can also cause arthritis as a secondary disease, which can last for several weeks.
Kitchenware used in handling contaminated food can also infect individuals.
Phage Treatment is Effective in Both Food and Kitchenware
Four bacteriophages that infect the Y. enterocolitica bacterium has been identified by the research team.
The fHe-Yen9-01 phage has proved to be the most effective of this quartet and was selected for the next stage of the study.
In the new study, the efficacy of fHe-Yen9-01 phage in decontaminating food and kitchenware contaminated by bacteria were investigated.
Skurnik explained that they focused on foodstuffs that often transmit infections and also those kitchen utensils, which are commonly used to handle these foodstuffs.
Everyday products like raw or grilled pork and milk that are available in grocery shop were inoculated with Y. enterocolitica.
The contaminated food was later subjected to phage treatment and the number of bacteria and phages were monitored for three days.
"Phage treatment was effective in inhibiting bacterial growth in food, while the number of phages in the food grew, indicating that phages infect bacteria and grow in them also when refrigerated," said Skurnik.
Later, even the kitchen utensils like wooden and plastic cutting boards, knives and surgical gloves were inoculated with the bacteria and phages, and the number of bacteria and phages in the kitchen utensils were monitored for two hours.
The research team found that the phages have inhibited bacterial growth efficiently.
Can Phage Treatment be included in Food Production?
Similar studies on the application of phages in food treatment have not been conducted before, said Skurnik.
However, treating food with phages is not entirely a new idea. A phage product is already on the market in the United States and is sprayed on raw food products to prevent Listeria bacteria growth.
Skurnik explained that it not an urgent call to prevent Yersinia infections in Finland. However, this study serves as a model for the prevention of other and more serious foodborne infections through phage treatment.
In the future, decontamination with phages can be part of the routine in food processing.
"One option is a phage mixture effective against several bacteria, such as the Salmonella and Campylobacter species, as well as the most common food poisoning bacteria in the gut. This mixture could also be administered in a preventive manner to farm animals, for example, mixed in their drinking water," muses Skurnik.
- Jin WooJun, Se ChangPark, AnuWicklund, and MikaelSkurnik. Bacteriophages reduce Yersinia enterocolitica contamination of food and kitchenware. International Journal of Food Microbiology (2018) DOI:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2018.02.007