This summer's rash of E. coli outbreaks have not come at an opportune time for prevention. Mandatory future cuts in federal spending threaten to slash the budget for food safety inspection, leaving the food system vulnerable to more infection. With this in mind, some have called for more irradiation as a way to fend off E. Coli without spending as much on the USDA and FDA. But irradiation is generally unpopular; though most scientists believe it to be safe, there are still some concerns about potential side effects.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota may just have developed a viable alternative. A research team headed by Irish microbiologist Dan O'Sullivan has discovered that bisin, a compound produced by harmless bacteria, kills harmful gram-negative bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli, with brutal efficiency. It does so without apparent health risks, unlike many other preservatives; bisin-producing bacteria are found in the human digestive system. Researchers hope that they might be able to add bisin to dairy and meat products to reduce the risk of E. coli and salmonella contamination almost to zero. The Telegraph claims that, by doing so, they will be able to extend the shelf life of such products for up to three years.
UPDATE: Bon Appetit's BA Daily blog was skeptical of the Telegraph's claims on multi-year shelf-life, and did some legwork to investigate it. They got the official word from lead researcher O'Sullivan: he told them that bisin does not likely have the ability to extend shelf life for multiple years. That said, it still has great potential as an anti-salmonella and E. coli agent.