Canadian researchers are using phages to target and kill foodborne pathogens such as Listeria
present on the surface of ready-to eat (RTE) and raw meats.
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.
New packaging approaches by Canadian researchers from the Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network for improving food safety are ongoing and offer unique solutions for biocontrol by using immobilized phage.
To prevent these food-borne tragedies from happening in the future, researchers Hany Anany and Mansel Griffiths (University of Guelph) are using harmless viruses called phage to kill targeted pathogens (including Listeria
and E. coli
) that could be present on the surface of foods. A phage, in simple terms, is a harmless virus that can kill bacteria.
Phage use has received regulatory FDA approval in the United States as a safe food additive in certain food products, along with Health Canada issuing a letter stating no objection for the use of phage. An immobilized phage can take over the Listeria
and/or E. coli
O157:H7 bacterial cell and produce new copies of itself inside the cell. After the phage reaches critical levels, the phage breaks open the bacterial cell and destroys it, thus not allowing the pathogen to multiply on a food surface.
Sentinel researchers published work in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology describes their method to stick phage onto cellulose material and explains when foods (ready to eat meats, raw meats) are wrapped in the package the harmful cells of Listeria
and E. coli
are killed by phage that have been placed on the packaging.
This packaging option works at refrigeration temperatures, at which pathogens can still grow. The packaging solution can be used for modified atmosphere and vacuum packaged meats. This is one of several technologies being investigated by the Sentinel Network, a NSERC strategic network that can help to make food-borne illness a thing of the past.
Paper-based biosensors (bioactive paper) offer one of the best approaches for food safety monitoring because of their low-cost, simplicity, and rapid response time.
Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network brings together 28 academic researchers and more than 50 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from 10 universities, with industry and government partners. Sentinel is operating with $7.5-million in funding over five years (2010-2015) from NSERC and another $2.5-million and over $2-million (in-kind) from industry partners.
Source: Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network