Aspects of determining efficacy of natural antimicrobials in foods

If a compound is to be useful as a natural food antimicrobial, it must function in a food system. Many researchers have made claims concerning the potential effectiveness of natural antimicrobials based solely upon data from testing in microbiological media only to find that a compound is much less effective or ineffective in a food system. Application testing can be very complex and include a number of variables including microbial, food-related (intrinsic), environmental (extrinsic) and process (Gould, 1989).

Because of the variation in characteristics and activities among naturally occurring compounds, it is somewhat difficult to generalize regarding methods for applying the compounds. Even among regulatory-approved antimicrobial compounds, such as benzoic acid or sorbic acid, there are no standard methods for evaluating activity or application procedures. Applying the antimicrobial to a food involves either a model food system or the actual food. A great deal of information can be gained by using model systems that contain a percentage of a food in a buffer or microbiological medium. These systems demonstrate potential interferences by food components but allow for easier sampling by the researcher. The microorganism or microorganisms utilized should be a natural contaminant (bioburden) or a pathogen of interest and incubation conditions should reflect use and abuse. Success of application testing may be determined by increased shelf life or reduction of potential health hazards.

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