Viruses as food additives

Who would have thought that one day we would deliberately add viruses to the foods we eat? In the United States, a company has obtained authorization, for the very first time, to commercialize its product containing live viruses, designed to be sprayed on luncheon and ready-to-eat meats. Not to worry, these viruses are safe for human beings.

Who would have thought that one day we would deliberately add viruses to the foods we eat? In the United States, a company has obtained authorization, for the very first time, to commercialize its product containing live viruses, designed to be sprayed on luncheon and ready-to-eat meats. Not to worry, these viruses are safe for human beings.

These viruses are bacteriophages. They are literally “bacteria-eaters”. They only attack the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium, the cause of a very serious infection called listeriosis. Pregnant women, newborns, seniors and adults with weakened immune systems caused by sickness (ex: by cancer or cirrhosis of the liver) or the intake of some medications (ex: anti-rejection therapies, cortisone derivatives and some arthritis medications, ulcerous diseases of the intestines or psoriasis) are predominantly at risk of contracting this infection. Deadly in 30 to 40% of cases, listeriosis translates in adults by a bacteremia or a septicemia (the presence of bacteria in the blood accompanied by a spiking fever) or a brain infection (meningitis). In the pregnant woman, it can cause an abortion, a premature delivery or a neonatal infection.

This infection is transmitted by the ingestion of contaminated foods. Listeria monocytogenes bacterium is vastly present in nature (water, soil, plants) and has the capacity to colonize food manufacturing sites. The foods that are most often contaminated are cooked luncheon and ready-to-eat meats, sausages, refrigerated germinated seeds, and some dairy products (soft cheeses and raw milk cheeses). These foods are particularly vulnerable to this bacterium because they are rarely cooked or heated before being consumed. Failing due, heat can kill bacteria that may be present in foods.

The bacteriophages solution can be sprayed on cold-cuts before they are packaged to prevent Listeria bacteria from spreading. Consumers will be unaware that the meats have been treated with the new solution. These bacteriophages are not harmful to humans. We usually find them in water, foods, the environment, and even in our intestines.

The company that manufactures this product has concluded an agreement with a multinational company to market it worldwide. It is currently working on another solution of bacteriophages destined to kill E. coli bacteria on beef before it is ground, aiming to prevent Hamburger Disease.

We expect you will never look at your ham sandwich the same way again…

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