A naturally occurring preservative which extends the shelf life of foods as well as killing bacteria could mark the end of food use-by dates.
The preservative, called bisin, has the potential to keep foods fresh for years. It is the first natural preservative to kill gram negative bacteria which can spoil food, as well as food poisoning bugs such as E.coli and salmonella.
All other natural preservatives used in the food industry are only effective against gram positive bacteria.
Bacteria are classified as gram negative or positive depending on the make-up of their cell wall.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have patented the preservative in the US, and say it could be added to foods such as meats, cheeses, dairy products, canned foods, sea foods, salad dressings and even wines within the next three years.
Dan O’Sullivan, a professor of food science and nutrition at the university, told the Sunday Times: “It seems to be much better than anything which has gone before.
“It doesn’t compromise nutrient quality – we are not adding a chemical, we are adding a natural ingredient.
“It’s aimed at protecting foods from a broad range of bugs that cause disease.”
The researchers are now trying to determine the best conditions for producing bisin, and to work out exactly how effective it is at preventing bacterial growth.
Each year in the UK, around 85,000 people are affected by food poisoning, a figure which is likely to be an underestimate as many cases go unreported.
Cases normally peak in the summer months, many due to undercooked barbecued food and foods which have gone off in the warm weather.