Food Safety: Antimicrobials for clean labels
Like it or not, today’s consumers want safe foods without complicated, unrecognizable chemicals and preservatives to ward off bacteria, mold and spoilage.
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). They’ve been around for a long time and are still in use today as preservatives. Use either of them, and some consumers may shun your products.
We all want safe food, free of harmful bacteria, and we want long shelf life. But some of the chemicals used today as antimicrobials and preservatives have unpronounceable and unrecognizable names with possibly unknown consequences after consumption. Today, consumers want clean labels with preservatives and antimicrobials that they can recognize and understand: like vinegar, ascorbic acid, rosemary—or chemicals derived from organic or natural substances.
This makes it more complicated than ever to produce a product with a clean label that will appeal to picky consumers. Fortunately, some treatments have proven safe enough that they don’t have to be listed on the label, for example, chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, ozone or bacteriophages. But not to fear, there are some clean-label alternatives available for primarily antimicrobial usage and also for extending shelf life.
Clean labels, natural and organic
The term “clean label” seems to mean slightly different things to different people. Clean label is a little like “all-natural,” and this is a problem when creating “clean” antimicrobials. You can start out with something organic and finish with something not so much. “Organic,” thanks to USDA, is better understood and defined.
In August 2006, FDA approved the use of a bacteriophage preparation made from six individually approved phages as an additive on RTE meat and poultry products as an antimicrobial agent against Listeria monocytogenes (Lm). The approved phage preparation is reported to be effective against 170 strains of Lm. The 2006 document notes that use of this product comes under the Federal Meat Inspection Act or the Poultry Products Inspection Act, both administered by USDA. Labeling instructions are provided within this document, however, when phage preparations are applied to slaughtering/processing of raw carcasses, in most cases, there are no labeling requirements.
Most bacteriophage preparations have been approved for clean-label processing in the USA, EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Israel, according to Micreos’ PhageGuard website. In the USA, FDA has granted GRAS for bacteriophages. Bacteriophages lyse and consume their host bacteria, and when finished, the host bacteria are depleted in the food. While bacteriophages have no other effect on food—they don’t change the flavor, texture or color—because of their specificity, they do not eliminate typical food spoilage bacteria.
Do phages work?
A medium-sized smoked salmon producer on the East Coast had this to say about using an Lm-specific bacteriophage:
“We had a recall a few years back, and it cost us in excess of well over $100,000. The FDA came in, consultants came in, we lost business. We met Micreos [PhageGuard] at a seafood show shortly after, they came over [from Holland], and we started using Listex. That was almost 10 years ago.
The problem with cold smoked salmon is that it is naturally contaminated and cannot receive a lethality treatment, such as heat, without inadvertently altering the typical characteristics of the product. Listex only targets Listeria, leaving everything else the way it is supposed to be. It’s the only product I have come across that does this for us. I sleep better knowing that I am controlling Listeria and not flying blind.”
Bacteriophages, in many cases, are certified organic, such as Listex. They also may be certified halal and kosher, but that should be verified with the individual supplier.
For more information:
Dirk de Meester, Micreos Food Safety, +31 317 421 414,
Original article found on Food engineering magazine.