Good news for Italian food lovers: New research has found a compound in garlic is 100 times more effective than antibiotics at fighting the most common cause of foodborne illnesses -- the Campylobacter bacterium.
The work, by Washington State University scientists, could change treatment options for people sickened by such illnesses as well as food-preparation practices for raw and processed meats.
"This work is very exciting to me because it shows that this compound has the potential to reduce disease-causing bacteria in the environment and in our food supply," said Dr. Xiaonan Lu, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.
About 2.4 million Americans are affected by the food-borne illness each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever. The bacteria can also trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Most infections stem from eating raw or undercooked poultry or foods that have been cross-contaminated via surfaces or utensils used to prepare poultry.
Lu and his colleagues found the garlic compound, diallyl sulfide, can kill the bacterium that causes the illness as effectively as 100 times as much of the antibiotics erythromycin and ciprofloxacin and works in a fraction of the time.
"Diallyl sulfide could make many foods safer to eat," said Barbara Rasco, a co-author of the study. "It can be used to clean food preparation surfaces and as a preservative in packaged foods like potato and pasta salads, coleslaw and deli meats."
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.