Monday, March 4, 2013

Organic Food Preservatives Being Developed

Are you one of many people who dislike eating food with artificial preservatives?  Or do you hate throwing away preservative-free food because it's spoiled?  Soon, you could be in both camps.

Here's a short article at Biotechnology Focus that describes work at the University of Alberta to develop organic food preservatives.  They goal is to increase production of antibiotic peptides secreted by lactic acid producing bacteria and use the bacteria as preservative agents.

Many bacteria produce antibiotic peptides, called bacteriocins, to compete with other bacterial species.  The nice thing about these peptides is that they've evolved to target a small group of competing bacteria while leaving other closely related microorganisms alone, so in principle they shouldn't have any adverse affects on mammalian cells.

The work described teams up researchers with CanBiocin, an industrial partner with extensive experience in the cultivation of Lactobaccillus and development of products from the bacteria.  In fact, they already produce a product called Micocin, which appears to prevent the growth of Listeria better than "a chemical preservative".  Micocin has been approved for sale in Canada since November 2010, two years after the 2008 Listeriosis outbreak that killed 22 people and created a huge overhaul of meat processing at Maple Leaf Foods, the origin of contaminated products.  I'm not sure what the cost of Micocin is versus traditional chemical preservatives, which are probably just nitrites.

It's a great idea, but I'm left wondering how people will accept the framing of bacterial peptides as "organic food preservatives".  While it's true that the peptides aren't chemical based, and that they are naturally derived, marketing Lactobacillus peptides as "the same preservatives naturally found in yogurt" might be a better sell.

Ultimately, if the performance of the peptides beats chemical based preservatives, like Micocin apparently does with Listeria, the "organic" label won't even be necessary for market acceptance.