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Compounds in Horseradish May Keep Food Fresher

By Jill Lee
February 1, 1999

Some people love putting a dollop of horseradish on their steamy roast beef. As it turns out, this natural taste-maker may also be a useful food preservative.

Agricultural Research Service food technologist Henry Fleming and Oklahoma State University food chemist Brian Shofran proved both horseradish and mustard oil pack a punch against Listeria, E. Coli, Staphylococcus aureus and other food pathogens you definitely don't want in your sandwich.

That's because these condiments contain a pungent chemical with the unsavory name allyl isothiocyanate (AITC). Mustard oil has 93 percent AITC, but has a milder flavor than horseradish which, has 60 percent AITC.

Shofran did the research as a graduate student under Fleming. Shofran is now an analytical chemist at OSU’s Food & Agricultural Products Center.

In 1989, USDA issued a "zero tolerance" policy for Listeria monocytogenes, but consumers demand that foods rely less on man-made preservatives. This research fits in with the trend of seeking natural substitutes for chemical preservatives in the food industry.

Many scientists have investigated allicin, a natural microbe inhibitor found in garlic. If Fleming and Shofran's work is borne out by others' research, their savory spices could join the natural arsenal against malevolent microbes.

ARS is the chief research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Henry Fleming, ARS Food Science Research Unit, Raleigh, N.C., phone (919) 515-2979; fax (919) 856-4361,; Brian Shofran, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla., phone (405) 744-4115, fax (405) 744-6313,