Bacteriophage production begins in Netherlands

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bacteria Listeria

A Netherlands-based company will begin producing bacteria that can
be used to kill pathogens in meat and cheese products.

With the increasing emphasis by consumers and regulators on food safety, and the prospect of costly recalls, fines and brand damage, processors are constantly on the lookout for quicker and cheaper ways of preventing bacterial contamination of their products.

Science startup EBI Food Safety announced this week that it will begin production of bacteriophages at a site in Wageningen, the heart of the Netherland's "Food Valley" area.

The facility will harbour the Western world's first facility for industrial scale production, the company claimed. The site will also serve as the company's research and development headquarters.

"The establishment of our Phage Technology Center is a milestone in the history of phage technology,"​ stated stated EBI's chief executive Mark Offerhaus. "This will reinforce EBI Food Safety's position as product leader in the field of applied bacteriophage technology and marks a breakthrough in the fight against dangerous bacteria."

In July the company plans to ship its first batches of bacteriophages to customers in the EU and US. The product, branded Listex P100, can be used to control Listeria monocytogenes in cheese and meat products.

The company plans to move on to the commercial production of phages for Salmonella, then Campylobacter and other food pathogens.

To food pathogens like Listeria, bacteriophages are the viral hit squads of the microscopic world. They have the potential to be the next big technological advance in anti-bacterial agents processors can use in ensuring their products do not leave the plant loaded with dangerous pathogens like Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli.

Bacteriophages are viruses that target bacteria, rather than human, plant or animal cells. For every bacteria, there is a phage that likes to latch on to them, take over their life processes and multiply. The baby phages then burst out to attack other nearby targets, thus killing the host cell.

It's this quality that EBI plans to turn into ammunition food processors can use against food pathogens. As they are host specific, the company has developed a method to mass produce phages for every pathogen found in food plants and on foods.

What's especially important is the product's ability to kill pathogens residing on equipment as biofilms, hard coatings of bacterial communities that are difficult to remove.

Worldwide food and non-food industries spend about €5.6bn on toxic chemicals that are only partially successful in blocking the bacterial scum, according to estimates.

The trick is to produce the right phages in enough quantities to manufacture a liquid product that can be using during processing, either to destroy pathogens on the surfaces of food, or residing on equipment, packaging and other contact materials.

As a scientific spinoff from research by the US-based National Institutes of Health the company has been developing phage production methods since 2001, when it was formed in the Netherlands. The company is developing its pathogen killers in a joint effort with Nizo, a Dutch food consultancy.

Listeria has been implicated in several large food poisoning outbreaks in the US and Europe. Listeria poisoning results in the highest rate of hospitalisation of any foodborne pathogen. About 20 per cent of its victims die, the second highest death rate for food poisioning victims.

Listeria has a high resistance to salt, nitrite, dry conditions and acidity. The micro organism's ability to multiply under refrigerated conditions causes major concerns for food processors.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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