Some of the best defenses humanity has discovered surround natural antimicrobials. While antimicrobial compounds are designed in labs throughout the world today for numerous uses in pharmaceuticals, product surface protection and food preservation, foods, herbs and other plants that contain natural antimicrobial properties were used to treat a myriad of issues before the pharmaceutical industry existed.
In the past few years, certain essential oils containing naturally occurring antimicrobial compounds have entered the spotlight in regards to extended food biopreservation. Certain natural compounds that carry antimicrobial properties such as lactic acid and citric acid are staple organic acids used by food companies to reduce E.coli bacterial prevalence. While some food companies already use natural antimicrobials to preserve certain products, details surrounding mainstream usage, actual efficacy and regulation standards remain vague. Due to increasing public interests in healthy lifestyles and more natural lifestyle practices, the evolution of commercial natural antimicrobial use continues to be molded by research.
E.coli (Escherichia coli), magnified x1000 (Source: Wikipedia) pictured.
The Bacterial Breakdown & Natural Antimicrobial Research
Many people wonder what a microbe is and how antimicrobial compounds stop microbial growth. In the case of a naturally occurring antimicrobial compound, bacteria and other microbials cannot reproduce as efficiently, if at all. Mimicking the same process as synthesized antimicrobial creation, natural antimicrobials penetrate bacterial cell walls, disrupting molecular reproduction. In some cases, these natural compounds can destroy bacterial cells altogether. This process of cellular membrane dissolution is termed lysis, in which natural antimicrobials act as lysines to invade and control bacterial habitats. When antimicrobial properties are absent, bacteria has the potential to reproduce at an accelerated pace, causing issues such as foodborne illness.
The CDC approximates that 1 out of every 6 Americans are affected by foodborne illnesses every year; that’s roughly 48 million people experiencing sickness, hospitalization or death (Source: CDC). Due to these statistics, researchers are focusing more on natural antimicrobials found in plants and herbs to better food preservation. Applications of compounds containing phenolic groups found in the essential oils of clove, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage and vanillin (primary vanilla bean component) are increasingly showing promise when applied to fresh food via dipping, coating, spraying and impregnation. The antimicrobial agents in these essential oils (in addition to others) are both effective and considered GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) by the FDA, drawing additional attention in laboratory studies (Source: NIH). While continued experimentation is essential for increased knowledge, the future plant-based natural antimicrobials may hold provides the potential for healthier food preservation methodologies.
Vanilla bean, which contains Vanillin, a natural antimicrobial agent, pictured. (Source: Wikipedia)
*Disclaimer: Microban® treated products do not protect against food spoilage, foodborne illness or infectious disease. All Microban antimicrobial solutions are designed solely to protect treated product surfaces from stain, odor and mold causing microbes. Written material authored by Microban discussing natural antimicrobials, antimicrobial benefits, antimicrobial effects on microbiological factors, etc. is intended to be digested solely as educational material.