Canadian Packaging

Phage viruses used in paper-based packaging

Canadian researchers use bacterial technique to create a new packaging that can control growth of E. coli and Listeria.


October 17, 2011
by Canadian Packaging Staff

With outbreaks of Listeria and E.coli making almost daily news within the food processing and packaging industry, Canadian scientists from the Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network are looking to create a new type of packaging that uses a bacteria to stem the tide of the deadly pathogens.

The new process involves using harmless phage viruses to target and kill pathogens like Listeria and E.Coli. that could be present on food surfaces—but the trick is to actually place the attacking phage in the paper-based packaging.

Phage use has received regulatory U.S. FDA (Food & Drug Administration) approval in the  as a safe food additive in certain food products, along with Health Canada issuing a letter stating no objection for the use of phage.

An immobilized phage can take over the Listeria and/or E. coli bacterial cell and produce new copies of itself inside the cell. After the phage reaches critical levels, the phage breaks open the bacterial cell and destroys it, thus not allowing the pathogen to multiply on a food surface

Sentinel researchers have stuck phage onto cellulose (paper-based) material and wrapped ready-to-eat foods like meats and raw-meats in it, and have shown that harmful cells of Listeria and E. coli are killed by phage that have been placed on the packaging.

This packaging option works at refrigeration temperatures, at which pathogens can still grow.  The packaging solution can be used for modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and vacuum packaged meats.

“This work has the potential to change the way today’s food packaging operates,” says Dr. Mansel Griffiths, a Sentinel researcher and director with the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph. “Through our research we also examined phage storage stability to further extend the use within industrial applications.”

Paper-based biosensors (bioactive paper) offer one of the best approaches for food safety monitoring because of their low-cost, simplicity, and rapid response time.

“Sentinel is working hard with its industry partners to bring phage-based anti-listeria and E. coli materials to the marketplace. One vision is food packaging that inhibits Listeria and E. coli growth and warns the consumer or food supplier of contamination,” said Robert Pelton, Sentinel’s Scientific director, McMaster University professor, and a Canadian Research Institute chair.