A mixture of six viruses can be safely sprayed on meat and poultry to combat common bacteria that kill hundreds of people a year, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The mixture of special viruses, called bacteriophages, is designed to be sprayed on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products just before they are packaged.
The preparation targets Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause a serious infection called listeriosis, primarily in pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems. In the US, an estimated 2,500 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 500 die.
The preparation of bacteriophages infects only various strains of the Listeria bacterium and not human or plant cells, the FDA said.
The viral preparation is made by Intralytix. The Baltimore company first petitioned the FDA in 2002 to allow the viruses to be used as a food additive.
The viruses are grown in a preparation of the very bacteria they kill, and then purified. The FDA had concerns that the virus preparation potentially could contain toxic residues associated with the bacteria. However, testing did not reveal the presence of such residues, which likely wouldn’t cause health problems anyway, the FDA said.
Scientists have long studied bacteriophages as a bacteria-fighting alternative to antibiotics.