Avocado seeds and the fight against Listeria

avacado_blogIf there’s one thing we know about consumer preferences it’s that we want it all — food that tastes good while still being good for us, available at a low or reasonable cost, and of course easy to find, prepare and/or eat. For many, a major part of food that is deemed healthy are options formulated without synthetic additives — a demand the food industry has seen increase over the past several years.

However, there can be big drawbacks when it comes to producing foods without synthetic additives, as they can be responsible for keeping our food safe to eat. This was demonstrated by a popular Mexican food chain who marketed their products as being a healthy choice due to their stance on eliminating additives and serving more “natural” foods. But, about a year ago, the restaurant chain began experiencing a number of food safety issues resulting in hundreds of illness reported in several states, lawsuits from customers, and the closure of restaurants for a revamping of their food safety measures.

Additives, synthetic or not, are needed for food safety reasons, so food product developers, like those from the chain mentioned above, are faced with the challenge of developing more natural additives that produce comparable results in terms of safety, as their synthetic versions.

The good news is that a recent study, may hold new potential for natural food additives as scientists recently discovered that extracts and isolated compounds from avocado seeds could potentially be used as a natural additive incorporated into ready-to-eat foods to control microbes that cause Listeria, a foodborne bacterial illness that can cause serious illness especially in pregnant women and people with impaired immune systems.

Published in the Journal of Food Science, researchers from Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico compared enriched acetogenin extract (EAE) from avocado seeds with two name-brand synthetic antimicrobials. Acetogenins are a kind of fatty acid that are known to insert themselves into cell membranes and disturb their functionality, one article explains.

In the study, the scientists found that the EAE presented similar Listeria-properties and chemical profiles to the synthetic antimicrobials. The study also states EAE was effective at 37°C (98.6°F) and at a refrigeration temperature of 4°C (39.2°F).

The temperature at which the EAE is effective is important because Listeria is known to survive in a wide range of temperatures and on a diverse assortment of food-contact surfaces and food items. Ready-to-eat products that are stored under refrigeration would see the most benefit, since they are particularly at risk of Listeria contamination.

The article explains that while humans already consume actetogenins from avocado pulp that are above antilisterial levels, bioavailability and safety of the extracts from avocado seeds need further assessment. But, because acetogenins are a natural product, they would be acceptable as food additives and would fall in line with consumer demands for clean labels.

Currently, avocado seeds are a waste product of the food industry, and these results offer a value-added, sustainable opportunity for manufacturers.

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Neogen is a leader in food safety solutions, including those for Listeria. For more information, click here.

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