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 Saturday, 4 January, 2003, 08:28 GMT
Acid 'stops Listeria in its tracks'
Listeria outbreaks are rare
Scientists believe they may have found a way to defeat a potentially lethal food bug.

Researchers in the United States say a simple organic acid can stop Listeria in its tracks.

Listeria is most commonly associated with ready-to-eat meats such as hot dogs and cold meats.

Companies don't want to produce an unsafe product, because their reputation is on the line

Professor Jimmy Keeton

If consumed, it can trigger life-threatening illnesses and is fatal in one in five cases.

Professor Jimmy Keeton and colleagues at Texas A&M University examined the effects of a number of different substances on frankfurters infected with high levels of Listeria.

The frankfurters were treated with either acidified calcium sulphate, potassium lactate, lactic acid or a saline solution.

Safe to eat

Each of these is safe to eat and some have been previously shown to be partially effective against the bacteria.

All of the frankfurters were vacuum-packed, much like they would have been in a commercial setting.

They were stored in refrigeration at 40F (just over 4C) for 12 weeks and were evaluated at two-week intervals.

"Our goal was to look at different treatments that might be used to decontaminate the surface of cooked products to ensure that Listeria was killed and it had very little opportunity to grow after that," Prof Keeton said.

The researchers found that acidified calcium sulphate was the only substance that could kill Listeria and stop it from coming back. The other substances were not as effective.

The researchers said the finding could help manufacturers to protect the public from the bug.

"Companies don't want to produce an unsafe product, because their reputation is on the line," Prof Keeton said.

"If they can find intervention procedures through research and new technologies, it's very important."

Listeria is considered to be a serious threat. Although outbreaks are rare they can trigger devastating conditions such as meningitis, spontaneous abortions and prenatal septicaemia.

An estimated 20% of cases result in death.

The researchers have submitted the findings of their study, which was funded by the American Meat Institute, to the US Department of Agriculture.

The US Government is currently considering how it can reduce Listeria contamination.

Figures from the Public Health Laboratory Service in the UK show that there were 136 cases of Listeria infection in 2001 - up more than one third on the previous year.

See also:

19 Feb 00 | Europe
15 Aug 00 | Wales
28 Jun 02 | Health
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