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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
Herb wrap wards off food poisoning
Wrapping extends shelf-life of cheese
The herb basil is the crucial ingredient in a super wrap being developed to protect food more effectively from contamination by dangerous bugs.

Scientists are using anti-microbial extracts from the herb to create a plastic wrapper for meat and cheese.

The chemicals slowly ooze out from the wrapper - and extend the product's shelf-life by killing off bacteria such as E. coli and listeria which can cause severe food poisoning.

New Scientist magazine reports that tests have shown the new wrapping can keep bacteria at bay in Cheddar cheese for a week longer than ordinary packaging.

The wrapper has been developed by scientists at the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, and the Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia.

It is laced with two chemicals extracted from basil: an ether called methyl chavicol and the alcohol linalool.

Both contain compounds that attack and destroy cell walls, and have been shown to be active against eight types of bacteria.

Japanese horseradish

Wasabi was tested and failed
The idea of incorporating natural substances in food wrappings has been tried before.

The Japanese used extracts from a potent horseradish, wasabi.

However, the project had to be scrapped after complaints that the food was tainted by the flavour of horseradish.

The new product does not have this problem, because the levels of chavicol and linalool used are too low to impart a basil taste to the food.

Lead researcher Dr Joseph Miltz said one of the advantages of the new wrapping was that because the active chemicals came from a natural source they were less likely to degrade into harmful by-products.

However, Dr Joseph Hotchkiss, of the Department of Food Science at Cornell University in New York, said that this did not necessarily make them safer than artificial additives.

A spokeswoman for the Health Protection Agency said: "Whilst the HPA welcomes any initiative to control microbial contamination in specific situations, it should be remembered that use of antimicrobial substances cannot and should not be a substitute for good basic hygiene.

"With regard to the use of antimicrobial products for kitchen hygiene, adherence to basic hygiene rules is likely to be just as effective in providing a hygienic environment as using antimicrobial products."

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