Compound in salsa kills off Salmonella

Salsa is more than just a spicy condiment. New research suggests it may also offer protection against Salmonella, the common foodborne pathogen that can cause severe sickness and even death.

In preliminary experiments, chemist Isao Kubo of the University of California, Berkeley determined that the juice from salsa, which contains mainly tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and green chilies, has antibacterial properties. Now, reporting in the June Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Kubo and his colleagues have zeroed in on a particular chemical: a compound in fresh cilantro leaves called dodecenal.

After isolating dodecenal, the researchers exposed Salmonella choleraesuis to the compound. Not only did it kill the bacterial cells, but it was twice as potent as gentamicin, a drug commonly used to treat the foodborne illness.

The presence of dodecenal in salsa might explain why residents of Mexico don’t develop salmonellosis, even though visitors to the country often contract the illness when exposed to Salmonella-contaminated food products, says Kubo.

Now that scientists know about dodecenal’s antibacterial powers, they might use it to develop a new treatment for Salmonella poisonings. Alternatively, Kubo says, dodecenal might find its way into general disinfectants or food additives to prevent the pathogen’s transmission.

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