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Viral food additives

Viruses as a Food Additive?

What would you like on your hot dog? Mustard? Chili? Bacteriophages?

Before you say, “hold the viruses,” (because that’s what bacteriophages are: viruses), you should know that the FDA has approved the use of a mixture of six different bacteriophages in the preparation of hot dogs, sausage, cold cuts and a variety of poultry products.

According to an Associated Press (AP) report, hundreds of people die each year due to strains of the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium that grow in the products mentioned above. But when processed meats are spritzed with the bacteriophage mix, the bacterium is killed off.

Will the treatment of lunchmeat with live viruses be a hard sell to the general public? Not at all. Because according to Andrew Zajac of the FDA Office of Food Additive Safety, consumers won’t be aware that products have been treated with the bacteriophages.

Those who feel squeamish about trusting food companies to add viruses to meat products might be relieved to hear that Caroline Smith DeWaal believes that the FDA is applying the toughest food-safety standards to this program. Ms. DeWaal is the director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer watchdog group. She told the AP: “They couldn’t approve this product if they had questions about its safety.”

I’m not kidding. She actually said that. The AP piece didn’t mention whether or not she made the comment with a straight face.