Before 1982 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had no record of the disease-causing properties of a strain of Escherichia coli bacteria that today infects 73,000 people a year. Since its emergence, researchers in government, academia and the food industry have labored to find ways to counter E. coli 0157:H7, while continuing their struggle against a host of other pathogens that contaminate the food supply.
The use of radiation to kill the bacteria directly is still controversial. A wholly different approach would stop the bacteria from tainting meat in the first place. A. S. Naidu, a medical microbiologist who heads the Center for Antimicrobial Research at California State Polytechnic University, received a patent (U.S.: 6,172,040) for a method of applying to meat a natural protein from cow's milk, the same compound that is credited with protecting infants from bacterial infections while their immune systems develop. Lactoferrin prevents the attachment on the meat surface of more than 30 types of bacteria, including Salmonella and Campylobacter, in addition to the much feared strain of E. coli. It can be used for other applications as well. "This is a microbial blocking agent that detaches a variety of microorganisms from biological surfaces," Naidu says. "[The surface] could be meat, but [the agent] also could be used for removing bacteria from a tooth or from acne on skin."
This article was originally published with the title Antimicrobe Marinade.