Written by Katharine Richter
On September 8, 2015, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study online titled, “Broad and efficient control of major foodborne pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli by mixture of plant-produced colicins.” The study advocates that colicins, which are nonantibiotic antimicrobial proteins that “kill or inhibit the growth of other competing E. coli strains,” could be used to effectively mitigate the risk of E. coli in meat and produce.
The study states E. Coli. “is one of the leading cause of bacterial enteric infections worldwide, cause ~100,000 illnesses, 3,000 hospitalizations, and 90 deaths annually in the United States alone.” According to the study, the only effective method currently to eliminate E. coli in meat and produce is to use thermal inactiviation, but the cost of using this method is it negatively affects both the taste and quality of the food.
The study results show that using a spray mixture of colicins from plants that have been genetically modified and are able to “demonstrate very high levels of colicin expression,” such as tobacco and edible plants such as spinach, drastically reduced E. coli bacteria on meat.
If the plant-produced colicins spray mixture is to be used for commercial use in the U.S., it will need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as generally recognized as safe (GRAS).