ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It could be the answer the food industry -- and all of America, for that matter -- is looking for: a natural option for keeping food safe.
On Thursday, the University of Minnesota announced that researchers have discovered and received a patent for a naturally occurring "lantibiotic" that could be added to food to kill harmful bacteria like salmonella, E. coli and listeria. In short, the natural preservative would keep food safer, longer.
"When we first saw it we were not too excited. [It] didn't seem to be too novel. But then when we examined it, we found it can inhibit the E. colis and salmonellas that are present," said Dan O'Sullivan, a professor of food science and nutrition in the university's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.
O'Sullivan said he stumbled upon his discovery of the lantibiotic, which is a peptide produced by a harmless bacteria, while researching the genome of bacteria. Other experts say the discovery could transform the food industry.
"This is a huge deal. This has impact on the food industry, the impact on even just consumers' sense of safety about the food they're eating is huge," said Sue Patow of the university's Office for Technology Commercialization, adding that food recalls cost the food industry $145 billion in 2009 alone.
As for how the discovery is being received, at least one restaurant co-owner says he'd welcome the natural solution to food dangers.
"My first reaction is, if it's naturally occurring, that makes it feel like it's safer," said Michael Gordienko of Kramarczuk Sausage Company in Northeast Minneapolis. "Kind of a peace of mind for myself and for my customer."
Researchers say it's unclear how long it would take before the lantibiotic shows up in food. Depending on funding and research progress on how to mass produce the lantibiotic, it could take one to three years, according to researchers.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)