Sunday, December 30, 2012


In one of the most paradoxical twists of irony, food poisoning episodes that occur with sickening regularity in countries like the US never posed any serious danger among billions of impoverished and malnourished population in Asia, Africa and Latin America! Whether the extra strong immunity of the latter or the extra vulnerability of Americans to infection, the fact still remains that industrialized nations are struggling to check, contain and prevent such food poisoning incidences as much as possible deploying most modern compliance protocols and sophisticated technological intervention. The bacterium Salmonella, one of the scourges causing immense damage among western population still rules the roost and meat products are most vulnerable to their disease causing ability. The most frequent source of contamination is the slaughtering house floor where the GI tract is punctured spilling over the contents which have high pathogen concentration. If a recent study which found that use of essential oils in water a few hours before slaughter can reduce such contamination, is true, there is hope for a new commercial practice involving use of these oils in thousands of slaughter houses across the world. Here is a glimpse of the findings which support earlier studies attributing anti bacterial properties to many spices and herbs containing essential oils.

Chickens that consumed the oil mixture harbored fewer Salmonella bacteria in their crop, but nearly similar percentages in their ceca when compared to chickens that simply drank water. During slaughter and processing, chicken meat can become contaminated with pathogenic bacteria if either of those two organs becomes ruptured. Considering that the oil treatment does little to reduce Salmonella in the cecum, it might appear wishful to think it could significantly reduce contamination in the slaughterhouse. The upshot, however, is that a chicken's crop is roughly 86 times more likely to be ruptured during slaughter than the cecum. The studies' lead author, Walid Alali, Ph.D., told Food Safety News he has not heard of any studies estimating the percentage of carcasses contaminated by rupturing of the crop versus the cecum. But the hope is that Salmonella reductions in the crop alone may be enough to stave off considerable amounts of contamination during processing, Alali said. Alali's studies used a commercial oil mixture known as "mix-oil," an Italian-made product first marketed in 2004 to improve livestock health. It was never intended to treat pathogens, but numerous studies demonstrate the antimicrobial characteristics of essential oils, Alali said. Some researchers and farmers have tried using essential oils to control pathogens in the past, though this marks the first time oils have been blended into the water. Others add organic acids into the water for the same purpose. The advantage to distributing oils via water as opposed to feed comes when considering a certain practice in chicken farming known as the "withdrawal period": Chickens are typically denied feed for the last 8 to 12 hours of their life before transport to slaughter and are only left with water to drink. Naturally, the chickens get hungry in that much time. They start pecking at anything that might look like food — including litter, which might be contaminated with Salmonella.

There is lot of logic in what the studies have reported but more insight about the mode of action of these oils on the poultry birds needs to be obtained. In India there are ancient practices which make use of major spices like black pepper, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, etc for treating many diseases under the traditional medicinal system. Even the western countries are to day considering alternate medicines for many allopathic main stream drug regimes and there fore use of spice oils by the poultry industry should not be a constraint. The wide scale use of antibiotics by the meat industry is now being blamed for the emergence of many super bugs with resistance to almost all antibiotics known to day posing a high degree of risk to the lives of billions of people who other wise depend on a few front line antibiotics. The extent of danger can be gauged from the fact that more than 80% of antibiotics consumed in the US finds its way to the meat industry! Can essential oils save this world? Possible!


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