Posted on Wednesday May 1, 2013
When people talk about getting “food poisoning”, they usually mean they became ill because of bacteria that contaminated something they ate. Some who comes down with this kind of foodborne disease simply has an upset stomach. But in far too many cases serious health problems and even death can occur, especially in very young children, the elderly and people who are already ill.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 76 million people suffer from foodborne illnesses each year in the US, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and more than 5,000 deaths. But now scientists have found a way to protect against three of the top culprits ( E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria) behind foodborne sickness. The solution isn’t some new chemical treatment or drug. Instead, it’s the same thing ancient cultures used and traditional healers have recommended down through the ages — common spices.
In a study just published in the Journal of Food Science, a publication of the Institute of Food Technologists, researchers at Processed Foods Research and Produce Safety and Microbiology units of Western Regional Research Center from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigated the effectiveness of oregano, allspice and garlic essential oils (EOs) against disease-causing E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria. The EOs were incorporated into thin, tomato-based coatings known as edible films which were layered on top of the bacteria. The disease-causing germs were also exposed to vapors rising up from the EOs in the tomato film.
The results of this research showed that all three essential oils were effective, natural barriers against E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, although there were some differences between the three EOs. Garlic, for example, did little to stop E. coli or Salmonella but delivered a knock out punch against Listeria.
Like to take in the yummy aromas of food flavored with herbs and spices? It turns out, according to the researchers’ vapor tests, that oregano and allspice oils work best to kill bacteria as the spice EOs diffuse through the air. Those two spices proved especially good at zapping E. coli and Salmonella. Overall, oregano oil was particularly powerful — it consistently inhibited the growth of all three foodborne-illness causing germs tested.
In another recent study, also published in the Journal of Food Science, the same group of USDA researchers found that EOs from cinnamon, allspice and cloves also can protect food from a host of bacteria. The scientists placed allspice, cinnamon and clove bud oils in edible films of apple puree. Then, after 24 and 48 hours, they documented the antimicrobial properties of the essential oils.
The results showed Salmonella was most vulnerable to the natural EOs. What’s more, even very low concentrations (one percent and 1.5 percent) of allspice and clove bud oils suppressed the growth of Listeria. Overall, cinnamon oil was significantly greater than allspice and clove bud oils against not only Salmonella but also Listeria and E. coli.
“The results show that apple-based films with allspice, cinnamon or clove bud oils were effective against the three bacteria. The essential oils have the potential to provide multiple benefits to consumers,” lead researcher R. J. Avena-Bustillos said in a statement to the media.
According to the McCormick Institute of Science, there is abundant historical documentation that herbs and spices have been used down through the ages for medicinal purposes, to keep food fresh, and to enhance the taste of foods. In fact, unlike so-called “advanced” modern Western culture, ancient civilizations did not distinguish between spices and herbs used for flavoring from those used for health benefits.
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