Researchers from the Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network hope future foodborne listeria and E.coli outbreaks could be prevented using the bacteria killing viruses.
The researchers have been able to apply phages to cellulose packaging paper material, which was then used to wrap meats contaminated with listeria monocytogenes and E.coliO157.H7.
According to a report sent to FoodProductionDaily.com the “developed bioactive membranes were able to successfully reduce populations of listeria monocytogenes and E.coli O157:H7 in a real food system.”
Destroy bacteria cells
It added: “Cocktails of phages active against Listeria or Escherichia coli (E.coli) immobilised on these membranes were shown to effectively control the growth of listeria monocytogenes and E.coli O157:H7 in ready-to-eat and raw meat.”
During tests, phages applied to packaging paper attacked the contaminated meats by taking over the bacteria cells and producing new copies of itself inside.
Once critical mass is reached in the cell, the phage breaks through the cell wall and destroys it, which in turn prevents the contaminating bacteria from multiplying on the food surface.
The report added: “These modified cellulose membranes that contain immobolised phages were able to control the growth of listeria monocytogenes and E.coli O157.H7 in meats incubated at different temperatures and under different packaging conditions.”
The study concluded that these immobilised listeria and E.coli phages could be employed in vacuum packaged ready-to-eat meats and meats packaged in a modified atmosphere (MAP), as well as meat kept at refrigeration temperature.
Broaden phage applications
Although initial research applies only to contaminated meats, scientists on the project hope to eventually “broaden phage applications not only to enhance food safety but also on many other fields.”
A recent wave of food contamination outbreaks in Europe and America has triggered concern in the food packaging and production sector.
The US cantaloupe related listeria outbreak has resulted in 23 deaths to date and a further 116 cases of infection across 25 states and earlier this year an E.coli outbreak in Germany, which was attributed to imported beansprouts, killed 49 and infected thousands.
Researchers at the Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network are conducting further studies to investigate the commercial viability of manufacturing phage-containing bio-membranes for products across the food packaging industry.
The report added: “Regulatory acceptance of the use of phage to control foodborne pathogens has triggered the search for new applications for these natural bacteria killers using different strategies to improve consumer and industry acceptance of the technology.”