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Edible Food Coating Kills Bacteria And Adds Flavor

. coli O157:H7, a potentially deadly strain of the common bacterium Escherichia coli, but tests on other foodborne pathogens, including Salmonella, are ongoing or planned in the future, she says. If they continue to show promise, the coatings could hit the consumer market in a year or two, estimates McHugh, whose study is funded by the USDA.

In developing the coatings, McHugh and her associates tested oregano, cinnamon and lemongrass oils in solutions of apple puree and dried films for their effectiveness against E. coli. Each compound was tested in a controlled series of dilutions, the scientists say.

While all of the oils tested inhibited the growth of E. coli, oregano oil was the most effective, killing over 50 percent of sample bacteria in 3 minutes at concentrations as small as 0.034 percent, says McHugh, who's now working on improving the kill rate.

The second most effective oil was lemongrass, followed by cinnamon oil. By contrast, the apple-puree film alone did not kill the E. coli bacteria, the scientist says.

However, an advantage of the apple antibacterial film is that it is composed of sticky sugars and lipids, which allow the coating to adhere to fruits and vegetables for longer periods than conventional, water-based produce washes. That same stickiness also gives the suspended antimicrobial agents a more concentrated exposure to bacterial surfaces, increasing the film's germ-killing potential, the researchers say.

The antibacterial coating could be used by produce manufacturers as a spray or dip for fresh fruits and vegetables, they say. The resulting product will taste a bit like oregano, McHugh says, adding that this can be a desirable trait in salads.

Besides apple puree, the antimicrobial films can also be made from broccoli, tomato, carrot, mango, peach, pear and a variety of other produce items. Non-antimicrobial versions of these food wraps are now being made commercially by California
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