Researchers have been stumped on finding an antimicrobial that safely preserves food, without contaminating or ruining them.
So to move forward, scientists are looking to the past. The next-generation, futuristic antimicrobial that we’ve sought could be the same thing people have been using for the last 4,000 years.
A new invention could improve food safety by borrowing a trick from ancient civilizations: using spice to fend off germs.
Back in the day, they’d use salt, fat, or sugar to preserve foods. The problem, obviously, was ending up with all that excess, unwanted fat, sugar, and salt. You could freeze the food, but risk burns, plus the inconvenience of keeping it frozen.
Spices are an intriguing alternative. They inhibit the growth of harmful microbes, with the only side effect being a change in taste – aka, a delicious side effect. Stuff like garlic, onions, cinnamon, allspice, oregano, thyme, cumin, and turmeric are all bacteria killers.
Turmeric, an ancient spice, has been of particular interest. Ruplal Choudhary, a food and bioprocess engineer at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is part of a research team that has found a way that the antimicrobial properties of the spice turmeric might be employed without making foods taste like turmeric.
He’s developed a method to coat glass and metal with curcumin — the main antibacterial chemical in turmeric. It won’t rub off and flavour the canned/packaged foods, providing a line of defense against foodborne illnesses. The idea would be to coat the inside of cans, knives, countertops, wherever food may be contaminated.
“Where I grew up, our house was surrounded by gardens,” Choudhary said.
“My father never liked to eat produce that came from the store, especially if it was harvested early and ripened in transit or at the store – he said it had no taste. We know now fresher foods are also higher in antioxidants and nutritive value. My goal is to find practical ways to use this technology to preserve food freshness as well as to create antimicrobial surfaces.”
Hopefully this new technology can lead to fresher and safer food in the future.