Cinnamon Sticks It to Bad Bacteria

Popular spice knocks out bugs in apple juice

TUESDAY, May 29, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Preventing food poisoning may be as easy as reaching into your spice rack.

A new study says just a dollop of cinnamon may rid apple juice of dangerous bacteria, and researchers say other spices may ward off germs in other foods, including beef.

As little as 0.3 percent of cinnamon added to the juice controls the growth of such nasty bugs as Escherichia coli 0157:H7, Salmonella and Yersinia enterocolitica, germs that cause food poisoning in humans, the researchers say.

"We started this research three years ago. We've been studying spices in ground beef and started with about 23 different spices and found that five of them were effective in killing E. coli 0157:H7," says Daniel Fung, a professor of food science at Kansas State University.

Fung says cinnamon, garlic, cloves, oregano and sage kill E. coli. "Because of the ground beef, we found that cinnamon was very effective, but because we know that people do not put cinnamon in ground beef, we started using cinnamon in apple juice because there have been several cases of E. coli in apple juice."

Fung and his colleagues put a large amount of E. coli in pasteurized apple juice and tested what amounts of the spice would kill the bacteria. "We found that anywhere up to a 3-percent solution of cinnamon in apple juice would drop 10,000 E. coli to anywhere from 10 to 100."

The ideal amount of cinnamon is about 0.3 percent, Fung says. "That's like three teaspoons in about 100 ounces of liquid, and that will not overpower people with a cinnamon taste," he says.

"We also tested cinnamon in apple juice with Salmonella typhimurium, Yersinia enterocolitica and Staphylococcus aureus and obtained similar results," Fung says. "These bacteria are all foodborne pathogens that cause food poisoning and other problems."

Cinnamon has two major compounds that are lethal to microorganisms, Fung says. "One of them is cinnamaldehydes and the other is eugeno, and both compounds kill bacteria."

The findings were reported at last week's annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Orlando Fla.

It's no surprise that cinnamon is antimicrobial, says Paul Sherman, a professor of evolutionary biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "It's one of the spices that I call highly potent, and it sure is highly antimicrobial."

"It's important to understand why we, as humans, use spices," Sherman says. "Sure, they make foods taste good. The question is why do they make foods taste good? Plants developed something we call secondary compounds, compounds that are not primary to their basic metabolism. And these secondary compounds evolved to protect the plants against living enemies."

While today we use refrigeration to preserve food, Sherman says "traditional recipes have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. And so in hot climates especially, which are known for their spicy recipes, it is obvious that those recipes co-evolved culturally, so that cooks used what plants were available, and those that were successful -- those that helped people survive -- were passed on from one generation to the next."

Fung says his goal is to suggest spices "off the shelf" to make food safer. "We continue to recommend all the necessary food preparation and food pasteurization techniques. At the same time, we want to provide added protection to consumers."

What To Do

Adding cinnamon is no substitute for preparing your food safely. For tips, go to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

For more on the antimicrobial power of spices, see Cornell University or Science News Online.

Read other HealthDay articles about food safety.

SOURCES: Interviews with Daniel Fung, Ph.D., professor of food science, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan., and Paul Sherman, Ph.D., professor of evolutionary biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; Abstract, American Society for Microbiology meeting
Consumer News