Researchers engineer plants to produce antimicrobial proteins for potential application in E. coli reduction.

  • Genetic engineering or genetic modification (GM) refers to the use of a host of technologies to manipulate an organism’s genetic code.  In the food industry, GM technology frequently is used to develop crops that express particular traits that are beneficial to food safety and quality (e.g., pesticide resistance, resistance to bruising).
  • A group of scientists recently published a study detailing the development of GM crops that will express antimicrobial proteins (called colicins) that can be applied to food products to kill E. coli bacteria.  The GM plants reportedly can yield high levels of active colicins that promise to be extremely effective at killing all major disease-causing strains of E. coli.  The scientists developing this technology have indicated that since colicins already exist in the human gut, clearance by a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Notification should be possible in the U.S.  The scientists make no reference to the fact that a pesticide registration will be required for use on raw agricultural commodities (RACs) and that such registration would be limited to use on RACs in a food processing establishment (or en route thereto) unless a regulatory tolerance or exemption from tolerance was established.
  • Concerns about GM technology and foodborne illness persist as topics of interest and debate in the food industry at large, but these areas do not frequently intersect or overlap.  It remains to be seen whether this innovative technology will be well-received by FDA (as its novelty may make GRAS status challenging to establish); the food industry (as this technology does not target other microbial contaminants of concern); and consumers (who already express widely divergent views regarding the safety and desirability of GM foods).

Don’t miss out:  Keller and Heckman is hosting an intensive one-day seminar in New York City on September 24, 2015 to discuss food authenticity issues, particularly with respect to Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Event details and registration information are available here.