Scientists and food packaging firms are tackling growing concerns over the threat posed by anti-microbial resistance in the food supply chain.
The developments coincide with claims by Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, that there is a “catastrophic threat” of resistance to antibiotics.
In her first annual report, she called for the growing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics to be recognised alongside terrorism as a huge global danger.
A scientific status summary just published in the journal 'Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety'1 outlines the challenges and complexities of the issue.
FDA categorises antimicrobials
Based on work by the World Health Organisation, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has categorised antimicrobials by order of importance, the authors of the study state.
Global monitoring of the incidence of antimicrobial resistance is ongoing, with more information coming on stream constantly, they add in the paper ‘Antimicrobial resistance: challenges and perspectives’.
The researchers claim there is no consensus with regard to what action to take to combat growing pathogen resistance.
“One approach is to reduce or prohibit the use of antimicrobials in agricultural animals,” they write. The approach appears to have contributed to meaningful reductions in the occurrence of ceftiofur-resistant S. Heidelberg and E.coli on poultry products, they state.
“However, in other situations more complex interventions appear to be required.”
CODEX task force
They predict that work by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CODEX), which established an ad hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance in 2007, was set to bear fruit.
“Through this venue, national and regional food safety authorities may soon have increased ability to assess and control risks posed by antimicrobial resistance in imported foods,” added the scientists.
Meanwhile, Symphony Environmental Technologies has launched a range of anti-microbial, anti-fungal formulations called d2p, which can be incorporated into food packaging to help prevent pathogen contamination before products reach consumers.
The company said international standard tests against germs ranging from Salmonella and Listeria to E.coli had proved the d2p ranges to be effective anti-microbials.
They were also effective against fungi, bacteria, mildew and algae and, as a result, could help increase the shelf life of bread and other foods, Symphony added.
The d2p formulations are each tailored to specific applications and polymer processes and use silver-based salt as the active ingredient, which slowly releases silver ions, inhibiting pathogen growth over a long time period.
The plastic additives work in three stages. In stage one, the active ingredient penetrates the pathogen cell membrane, breaches the cell wall and makes its way through to the cell.
In stage two, the active ingredient interacts with enzymes, deactivating vital molecules and in stage three, d2p interacts with cell DNA, ensuring the offending cell does not replicate.
According to Symphony, d2p formulations were generally added to plastics at levels of 1-2%. Products in the range work at conventional processing temperatures without losing their anti-bacterial properties and have been designed to retain maximum stability whilst in storage and during use.
“If we can no longer rely on antibiotics we have to deal with the bacteria before they get into our bodies”, said Michael Laurier, Symphony’s chief executive.
Smyphony said d2p could also be incorporated in various other items that come into direct contact with the skin or food, from toilet seats and telephones to credit cards.
The world “could be wasting millions in added health costs by not switching quickly to anti-microbial and anti-fungal plastic,” said Laurier.
1 Doyle, M. P., Loneragan, G. H., Scott, H. M. and Singer, R. S. (2013), Antimicrobial Resistance: Challenges and Perspectives. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 12: 234–248. doi: 10.1111/1541-4337.12008