Biochemicals company Purac has stepped up development in products that prevent growth of listeria bacterium as reformulation to cut salt content increases the risk of the food-borne illness.
The company has noticed an increase in demand for products that protect against listeria as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has drawn attention to the problem of the illness that has become more widespread in recent times.
Listeriosis is a rare but potentially lethal infection that can kill vulnerable people, such as the elderly and pregnant women, as well as people suffering from immuno-compromising diseases like cancer or HIV.
Purac has recently rolled out new products that focus on processed meats and ready-to-eat salads. They are aimed at ensuring a reduction in the risk of listeria, which could ultimately translate into savings by the company due to less investment required for safety inspections.
There is particular desire to cut salt content in these products on the back of greater concern about the possible dangers to health caused by excess consumption of sodium chloride.
"Sodium chloride is an important preservative, and if you reformulate simply by removing it, you create a greater risk of listeria," said Pieter Paul Lamers, market unit director.
"We have come up with a range of products that replace the sodium while protecting against listeria, as well as a model to test how much of the bacteria could develop in the product."
Protecting against listeria
Most cases of listeria are caused by the consumption of ready-to-eat foods which support growth of the bacteria and develop a high concentration of Listeria along the food chain.
Purac's new potassium-based product, Purasal P Plus, is said to replace sodium chloride in processed meats while maintaining preservative without impairing the taste of the product, according to the company.
Lamers told FoodNavigator.com: "The main challenge in reformulation is to come up with alternatives for sodium chloride that do not change the flavour. With potassium, there is no negative flavour."
As well as ingredients for listeria control, Purac has developed a Listeria Control Model for cooked meat products and deli salads, to help predict the growth of listeria throughout the shelf life and so help calculate lower sodium recipes.
"There has been a lot of interest in our protective model as it means fewer inspections are required of the ready-to-eat products, and therefore saving on time and money," said Lamers.
"We are now looking at developing new models for different types of bacteria," he added.
EC regulation requires that manufacturers test these ready-to-use products and ensure that sufficient controls are in place to ensure the concentration of Listeria Monocytogenes in food remain below 100cfu/g throughout shelf life.
The regulation was implemented early in 2006, but there has been increased focus on it this year as EFSA issued updated advice on reducing the risk of the food-borne bacteria listeria, urging food manufacturers to watch out for contamination during packaging, preparation and storage of food.
In an opinion published in January, the Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) warned that listeria was on the rise, after a general decline in the 1990s.
The number of human cases of the disease increased by 8.6 per cent in the EU from 1,427 cases in 2005 to 1,583 in 2006, even though the number of large listeriosis outbreaks has declined.