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Bacteria-killing protein to combat E.coli in red meat

By Rory Harrington , 01-Feb-2010

A bacteria-killing protein that would be applied to raw meat during processing to “significantly reduce” the presence of E.coli is under development, said one company behind the project.

US-based Ecolab Inc announced it has joined forces with AvidBiotics Corps to commericalise its proprietary protein-based antibacterial technology, which can be targeted against specific bacterial pathogens. The firm said that while the technology could be applied to a number of food pathogens, its initial target market would be E.coli in red meat for the processing sector – which was seen as a “high priority”.

The initiative will seek to develop a product that could be applied directly onto raw meat surfaces as a fine coating or mist during processing, an Ecolab spokeswoman told FoodProductionDaily.com.

She added: “The antimicrobial protein in the product kills E. coli O157:H7 during processing and has no effect in the final product. The antimicrobial protein binds specifically to E. coli O157:H7 and kills this pathogen by puncturing its cell wall.”

Mechanically tenderized meats

The Minnesota firm said it would be testing the product on whole carcasses and meat cuts - particularly meat cuts used to manufacture non-intact products such as ground beef and mechanically tenderized meats. The antimicrobial protein would be assessed in beef slaughter and further processing facilities to find the best applications. ‘Non-intact’ meat refers to muscle that is not in its original or intact state, explained the firm.

Ecolab said initial tests had shown the product was capable of providing “significantly greater reductions" in E.coli0157:H7 than chemical sanitising agents currently used for this purpose – such as lactic acid and chlorine.

“Our customers are looking for technologies to provide assurance they are producing and preparing safe food,” said the spokeswoman. “The science behind the technology is sound and we look forward to working with AvidBiotics to gain Food and Drug Administration and US Department of Agriculture clearances and develop a successful commercial product.”

Meat safety debate

The safety record of the US meat industry has come under intense scrutiny in recent months. Four weeks ago, a multi-state recall led to renewed focus on mechanical tenderization as a possible cause of increased E.coli risk in beef and pork products. The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) recalled 248,000 pounds of mechanically tenderized beef products from Oklahoma-based National Steak and Poultry on December 24 after they were linked to 21 illnesses across 16 states.

Mechanical tenderization involves inserting hundreds of tiny needles into tougher beef products to physically break up muscle fibres, and it is also used to inject marinades into pork. It is alleged that the process could transfer any E. coli bacteria that may be on the surface of meat into its core, meaning that consumers would need to heat the product to at least 160°F (71°C) to ensure the bacteria are killed.

Last year, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand accused the meat sector of a lack of corporate responsibility as she introduced a bill into Congress to make E.coli testing of ground beef a mandatory requirement.

Industry bodies such as the American Meat Institute (AMI) have insisted US meat is safe.

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