Antimicrobial Agents

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FS 125

March 10, 2012

ANTIMICROBIAL AGENTS 1. Introduction Food preservation has long been practiced since the olden times with processes such as heating , drying, fermentation and refrigeration. In spite of this, physical methods are not enough to eliminate all microorganisms found in foods. Therefore, antimicrobial agents are needed to destroy these foodborne pathogens, so that the food will have a longer shelf-life. As technology progresses, improvements in the processing procedure and packaging systems considerably contribute to the preservation of food. Even so, antimicrobial agents still play an important role in protecting the food supply.

Antimicrobial agents are chemical compounds biosynthetically or synthetically produced which either destroy or usefully suppress the growth or metabolism of a variety of microscopic or submicroscopic forms of life.

2. Factors Affecting the Selection of Antimicrobial agents 2.1 Antimicrobial activity against different organisms It is desirable to use an antimicrobial agent that can inhibit a wide range of spoilagecausing microorganism. A good understanding of the chemicals' mode of action is also useful in selecting a preservative.

2.2 Microbial load of the food product . The food must be of the highest microbiological quality initially. Food should always be processed under the most meticulous sanitary conditions to minimize contamination. A high microbial population would require higher doses of antimicrobial agents. Use of antimicrobial agents should not be viewed as a substitute for good sanitation.

2.3. Chemical and physical properties In choosing an antimicrobial agent, properties such as solubility, boiling point, and dissociation are important. Water solubility is important since microbial growth requires water. 1

Volatile preservatives are easily lost if the food is heated during processing. Dissociation of sorbic acid has an important bearing on its effectiveness in inhibiting harmful microbes. Most compounds are effective in their undissociated form.

2.4 Stability Constituents in food such as protein and fiber can react with the preservative and reduce its effectiveness. For this reason, the stability of antimicrobial agents during storage is very important.

2.5 Processing and storage conditions The conditions of storage and interactions with other processes must be evaluated to ensure that the antimicrobial will remain functional over time.

2.6 Flavor The addition of the antimicrobial agent should not interfere with the flavour of the food product, or rather enhance it.

2.7 Cost The choice of antimicrobial should be cost-effective and suited to the food product.

2.8 Safety and legality Antimicrobials agents must not be toxic to humans. The use of antimicrobial agents is often strictly regulated. As a processor, it is essential to use chemicals as prescribed by the regulations.


3. Types of Antimicrobial agents and their Functions

3.1 Benzoic Acid and Sodium Benzoate  Structure:

Fig 1. Structures of Benzoic Acid and Sodium Benzoate
(Image from Wibbertman, Mangelsdorf & Melber, 2000)

Sources: o Benzoic acid occurs naturally in many plants and resins such as cranberries, plums, prunes, cinnamon. However, benzoic acid can be produced commercially by the reaction of toluene with oxygen at temperature around 200C in the liquid phase. The process is catalyzed by cobalt or manganese salts.

Fig. 2 Production of Benzoic Acid
(Image from

o Sodium benzoate Sodium benzoate is produced by the neutralization of benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide. 

Properties: Benzoic acid is a white solid that starts to sublime at 100°C, with a melting point of 122°C and a boiling point of 249°C. Its solubility iin water is low (2.9 g/litre at 20°C). 3

The undissociated form of benzoic acid (pKa=4.2) is the most effective antimicrobial agent. It was reported that the...
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