The group, from the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture, said its work demonstrates that infusing combinations of organic acids, such as acetic, citric, lactic, malic and tartaric, into chicken meat curtails the presence of the potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella Typhimurium bacterium.
Researchers found malic, citric and tartaric acid were particularly successful against S. Typhimurium and E. coli O157:H7. – but less effective against L. monocytogenes.
Irradiation – consumer education key
The consortium said results were significantly boosted when the chicken was subject to irradiation. However, the technique, which involves exposing food to ionizing radiation to destroy micro-organisms, bacteria and viruses, has attracted controversey with many consumers uncertain over potential health problems connected to eating irradiated products. A 2008 survey conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that 90 percent of people believed meat containing irradiated componants should be labelled as such.
In a statement, the research group acknowledged that irradiation “has not yet been applied widely in the United States as many companies have worried about potential resistance among consumers”.
Navam Hettiarachchy, a food safety professor in charge of the project, said the research team had examined the effects of irradiation on the chicken’s colour and texture and found no significant change. He suggested that labels on irradiated products could have a brief explanation of irradiation to educate consumers.
“I am hopeful that with time the public will become aware of irradiation processing so that they accept irradiation in processing poultry and meat products for safety against pathogens,” Hettiarachchy said.
He added: “A new education component is very important and may be the key for acceptance for irradiated food products by the consumer.”
The research is ongoing but one poultry company has already shown an interest in the project’s findings, said the body.
Plant extract findings
Experiments were also carried out using extracts from grape seed and green tea in combination with the acids. Previous research by team found that extracts of both substances reduced L. monocytogenes to undetectable levels when applied in combination with the food preservative nisin.
The researchers said they were also using the plant extracts to serve as antioxidants, which minimizes lipid oxidation. Lipid oxidation is a process that causes meat quality to deteriorate by adversely affecting characteristics such as flavor, color and texture.
Hettiarachchy said: “We want to determine the least amount of plant extracts that we can use and the least amount of irradiation dosage to get the best inhibitory effect.”