Food Safety: Natural Preservatives and Extending Shelf Life

November 11, 2011
Robby Gardner

Dealing with today’s threats of product contamination and degradation.

Food safety, as we know, is increasingly troublesome. FDA can’t seem to go a week without announcing at least one food recall, and reports continue on the increasing resistance of molds and other contaminant species to traditional preservatives.

Can the food ingredients industry answer to the delicate demands of food freshness without losing consumers?

Recent results suggest it can.

E. Coli

Arguably, no other industry sector is so challenged by today’s food safety demands as the raw meat sector. This summer, E. coli presence in raw beef and turkey resulted in widespread recalls. Since 1994, only one strain, E. coli O157:H7, has been prohibited in raw beef. But now the USDA is banning six additional strains. Inspections are tentatively set to begin in March 2012.

Meat suppliers will ultimately bear the burden of food safety here, but ingredient suppliers continue to churn out their own solutions. Handary SA (Brussels) has announced a new starter culture for fermented meats, effective against Listeria. Kemin Health (Des Moines, IA), too, has its own solution against this bacteria, with BactoCEASE, intended for ready-to-eat meat and poultry products. A number of products already on the market will see ongoing investigation for potential meat-protection.

Antimicrobials

Products effective against yeasts and molds are also in development. A notable launch this year came from Danisco (Copenhagen). The company’s BioVia YM 10, derived from dextrose and plant extracts, has demonstrated efficacy against mold and yeasts at levels comparable to those experienced with the synthetic preservative potassium sorbate. BioVia YM 10 can be used in fat- and oil-containing foods.

Antioxidants

Opposite yeast and mold spoilage are the risks associated with oxidation: loss or change of color, taste, and aroma, and risk of rancidity. Tocopherols, green tea extract, and rosemary extract remain at the top of the list when it comes to natural antioxidants.

Global standing for rosemary as a consumer-safe antioxidant was bolstered last fall when the European Union approved its use and confirmed its safety. While lengthy research has focused on health benefits tied to rosemary consumption, levels required for the ingredient’s use against oxidation are likely too low to warrant any nutritional efficacy.

Kemin Health is a specialist in rosemary extracts for food antioxidation, overseeing the growing, extraction, and customization processes of its rosemary ingredients and rosemary antioxidant blends.

Starter Cultures

Two new launches from Handary introduce a notion of cleaner labeling that is truly a testament to a wisening food industry. Proteria Y and Proteria M can extend the shelf life of products (in these cases, milk and meat products), but since they are starter cultures, they do not have to be listed as preservatives on ingredient labels.

Is It Natural or Artificial?

As if food safety wasn’t difficult enough, consumer demand for natural products makes further demands. In the realm of food protection, however, what’s natural and what’s synthetic has not been clearly established.

According to Danisco food protection manager Jerry Erdmann, FDA has not set a definition for natural versus synthetic preservatives. “However, the FDA recognizes that customers (and therefore manufacturers) want alternatives and that the issue is so complex that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Erdmann. “They are enabling customers to make their own decisions by requiring manufacturers who make claims to provide a context for these claims so that they are truthful and not misleading.”