Garlic being used to treat baby formula may not sound like a good idea, but scientists have found that using trace amount of garlic compounds can neutralize dangerous contaminants in infant formula.
New research by a team at the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia in Canada shows that two compounds found in garlic, diallyl sulfide and ajoene, may significantly reduce the risk of contamination during the manufacturing process of dry infant formula.
The researchers, using techniques called RNA sequencing and confocal-microscopic lasers, found that the garlic compounds neutralize a bacteria known as Cronobacter sakazakii, giving potential mothers a greater peace of mind when they decide to use formula.
What is C. Sakazakii?
C. sakazakii (once known as Enterobacter sakazakii) is a bacterial contaminant that can be found in dry infant formula powder and other foods that are fortified, or have micronutrients added to them. Most cases of infection appear in adults but, while infant infection is rare, C. sakazakii is a significant health risk for infants as it can lead to blood poisoning and life-threatening meningitis.
The risk of C. sakazakii contamination has prompted a number of high profile product recalls in the past, including a case in 2011 when Enfamil Newborn Baby Formula was pulled from store shelves after a baby died of what at the time was believed to be C. sakazakii-linked infection — Enfamil products were tested by the CDC and were found to not be the cause of death, but this serves to show how serious the health authorities take potential contamination.
How Does C. Sakazakii Get into Baby Formula?
The products at risk are specifically the dry powder kinds that are not heat treated at high temperatures. These tend to be the cheaper formulas on the market.
C. sakazakii can enter a product through the raw materials being used in the formula, or through indirect contamination like through the pipes used to carry the formula during the manufacturing process. In rare cases, the bacteria could contaminate the formula during preparation by a child’s caregiver, though such cases are relatively few in number.
In broad terms, healthy babies are unlikely to be affected, but premature or ill babies can be at risk. However, it is worth reiterating that the contamination risk is relatively low.
Does this Mean Baby Formula Will Taste Like Garlic?
First of all, this study is a long way from being put into practice, but does show promise for future testing. Secondly, garlic wouldn’t actually be included in the formula but the non-whiffy compounds derived from it could be used throughout the manufacturing process to keep formula powder free of C. sakazakii.
To prevent contamination, manufacturers tend to use chemicals like chlorine to sterilize the various tubes that carry the formula product. The researchers in this latest study speculate that chemical compounds that can be derived from garlic would offer a less harsh but no less effective alternative.
Co-author of the study Xiaonan Lu is quoted as saying: ”A trace dose of these two compounds is extremely effective in killing C. sakazakii in the food manufacturing process. “They have the potential to eliminate the pathogen before it ever reaches the consumer.”
“This is the first step to international collaboration to decrease the potential contamination of dry infant formula powder products transported globally,” Shuo Wang, co-corresponding author and president of Tianjin University of Science and Technology and director of National Key Laboratory of Food Nutrition and Safety in China, is quoted as saying.
The research is published in the journal Applied and Environmental Biology.
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