The recent Listeria and E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with cantaloupe and raw beef in North America reveal that the current available methods and procedures for food safety are lacking to achieve full control of these deadly pathogens. 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.
"This work has the potential to change the way today's food packaging operates, said Dr. Mansel Griffiths, a Sentinel researcher and Director, Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph. "Through our research we also examined phage storage stability to further extend the use within industrial applications."
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 is working hard with its industry partners to bring phage-based anti-listeria and E. coli materials to the marketplace. One vision is food packaging that inhibits Listeria and E. coli growth and warns the consumer or food supplier of contamination," said Robert Pelton, Sentinel's Scientific Director, McMaster University Professor, and a Canada Research Chair.
Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network www.sentinelbioactivepaper.ca 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: SC Johnson, FPInnovations, Stora Enso, and Graphic Controls and government partners: NSERC and the National Research Council. McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario leads the Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network and hosts its administrative centre.