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How Do Natural Antimicrobials Affect Food Quality & Safety?

Nearly half a million dollars will fund a Canadian research chair to ensure food safety and quality when it comes to using natural products to control pathogens

by Institut National De La Recherche Scientifique - INRS
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INRS professor Monique Lacroix has been evaluating the antimicrobial and antioxidant potential of various and effective products that are less harmful to health for 26 years.
Christian Fleury (INRS)

What are the antimicrobial effects of stabilized natural products to ensure food safety and quality? This question is at the heart of the new research chair directed by professor Monique Lacroix of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) and funded by the Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation du Québec and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

In the food industry, the control of microbes, such as bacteria or viruses, often requires the addition of synthetic chemicals. Yet consumer demand for natural antimicrobial products is growing.

For the past 26 years, Lacroix's laboratories has been evaluating the antimicrobial and antioxidant potential of various and effective products that are less harmful to health. Those products come from natural extracts including essential oils, fruits, spices, and, more recently, silver nanoparticles. The financial assistance of $487,590, granted under the Partnership Program for Innovation in Agriculture, will allow these natural solutions to be further developed.

Natural solutions for food safety

To date, the challenge in using natural antimicrobial extracts has been their instability. "Some of the extracts oxidize quickly or are volatile. There is also variability in their composition and their interactions with the different nutrients in foods," explains Lacroix. These limitations where the safety should be assured.

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"In food systems, it is important to consider all the parameters affecting yields and to develop standardized and stabilized processes whose components act in synergy," emphasizes the researcher in applied food sciences. This funding will make it possible to develop different stabilization methods, such as food coating via immobilization in edible polymers. We can also think of nanoemulsion, encapsulation in microbeads, liposomes, or biodegradable nanocomposite packaging films or developed from natural polymers."

Antimicrobial properties

The project is also evaluating the possible interactions between food composition, processing and storage conditions, and the resulting antimicrobial activity. The new chair will characterize the antimicrobial properties of natural extracts, such as essential oils, or fruit extracts. Bacteriocins produced by probiotic bacteria or by ferments, which are proteins or peptides generated during the fermentation of lactic bacteria, will also be studied. It will thus be possible to optimize the fermentation conditions for the production of antimicrobial bacteriocins. It is, among other things, by developing processes containing these extracts acting in synergy, under optimal concentrations, that the components will be standardized and stabilized. They will thus be able to meet the needs of various applications.

Lacroix will collaborate with professors Annie Castonguay and Steven Laplante for the chemical analysis of the composition of the different extracts. It will contribute to a better understanding of the relationships between the structure and the antimicrobial activity of the extracts. The development of chemometric predictive models (classification of extracts) will provide the necessary information for the development of standardized antimicrobial formulations.

"Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their food," says André Lamontagne, Québec's minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. "They are looking for sustainably produced foods and environmentally friendly packaging. The research chair will allow a transfer of knowledge between the research community and industry, as well as attracting and retaining the next generation of bio-food industry professionals. I am already looking forward to the advances that the work of the chair in food safety and quality will allow."

- This press release was originally published on the INRS website. It has been edited for style and length