Indian spice may help improve food safety

Spices_Indian_Bigstock47147192_blogA research team at Southern Illinois University has found a way to employ the antimicrobial properties of turmeric, a spice best known for its use in Indian cuisine, to help prevent E. coli and other foodborne pathogens.

According to the study, this can be done without making foods taste like turmeric and is similar to the age old practice of adding spices (including garlic, onion, cinnamon, allspice, oregano, thyme, cumin) to help preserve foods. In fact, a study from Cornell has shown that the prevalence of spicier foods in equatorial cultures is no coincidence but instead affected by the warm climate, which leads to faster food spoilage.

The researchers not only added turmeric to foods in their study, but also used it on preparation surfaces such as cutting boards, knives and countertops.

Curcumin, a primary component of turmeric, has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, the article states. Using nanotechnology, the researchers developed a way to bind curcumin to metal and glass; essentially they used tiny bubbles (nanovesicles) to enclose a curcumin compound, which is responsible for killing the bacteria present on the food or surface.

The article explains that this application could go well beyond food prep and could potentially be used as a coating for the inside of cans to make sure food stays fresh and safe, or used on knives and countertops to provide a new line of defense against foodborne illness. Other types of food packaging could take advantage as well.

“We know now fresher foods are also higher in antioxidants and nutritive value,” researcher Ruplal Choudhary said in the article. “My goal is to find practical ways to use this technology to preserve food freshness as well as to create antimicrobial surfaces.”

These findings raise an intriguing possibility that our next-generation, futuristic antimicrobial that could keep food fresher and safer, could turn out to be the same thing people have been using for the 4,000 years. With recent high profile stories in the marketplace regarding issues of foodborne illness, the article explains that this could have a major impact.

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