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Fight Foodborne Illness, Naturally, with a Little Help from Cinnamon

First Posted: Jul 17, 2014 12:30 PM EDT
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Foodborne illnesses affect an estimated 1 in 6 Americans every year. Of this 48 million, 128,000 will be hospitalized and 3,000 will die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet researchers from Washington State University in Pullman found that one little ingredient could be helpful in preventing serious health issues caused by pathogenic bacteria: cinnamon.

Researchers said they believe that Cinnamomum cassia oil could help to work as a natural antibacterial agent in the food industry.

For the study, researchers found that the oil killed several strains of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli), also known as "non-O157 STEC" by the CDC. For their research, they examined the top six strains of non-O157 STEC.

Very little amounts are needed for the oil to be effective, according to study co-author Lina Sheng, a graduate student in the School of Food Science at the university. In fact, Sheng said that 10 droplets diluted in a liter of water killed all related bacteria in as little as 24 hours.

As rising health concerns regarding chemical additives have strengthened a need for more natural ones, study co-author Meijun Zhu noted the need to further explore plant-derived natural food bioactive compounds as antimicrobials that could safely control foodborne pathogens.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service has a "zero tolerance" policy for the CDC top six non-O157 STECs in raw ground beef and trimmings, indicating any raw non-intact beef products containing these pathogens will be considered adulterated.

This has led Zhu and Sheng to include the beef industry in the large-scale application of their findings on cinnamon.

"The oil can be incorporated into films and coatings for packaging both meat and fresh produce," Sheng said, in a news release. "It can also be added into the washing step of meat, fruits or vegetables to eliminate microorganisms."

This type of cinnamon is primarily produced in Indonesia and contains a stronger smell than over typically used varieties. 

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal Food Control

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