The Future of Food Safety: Optimizing Essential Oils for Enhanced Antimicrobial Activity

February 1, 2024

Over the last twenty years, the food industry has shown a growing fascination with the use of mixtures, a practice reminiscent of the ancient use of medicinal plants for healing various ailments. Essential oils, in particular, have emerged as a powerful alternative to some traditional medicines, thanks to their effectiveness against a broad spectrum of pathogens, including those responsible for food spoilage.

In the quest to combat antimicrobial resistance, researchers have been delving into new methodologies like phage therapy, bacteriocins, and antimicrobial peptides. There’s also a renewed interest in revisiting previously abandoned antibiotic candidates and developing new antibiotics, focusing on natural and synthetic sources.

Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen from INTI International University’s Faculty of Data Science and Information Technology (FDSIT) and a team of researchers have found that lemon eucalyptus, lentisk, and sweet orange essential oils may offer alternatives to commercial drugs and chemical preservatives.

Amid these efforts, Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen of INTI International University’s Faculty of Data Science and Information Technology (FDSIT) and collaborators from Malaysia, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia embarked on a groundbreaking research project. Their study, “Combination of Sweet Orange, Lentisk, and Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oils: Optimization of a New Complete Antimicrobial Formulation Using a Mixture Design Methodology,” aimed to uncover the combined antimicrobial powers of sweet orange, lentisk, and lemon eucalyptus essential oils. These oils are celebrated not only for their culinary uses but also for their medicinal benefits.

Professor Dr. Goh explained, “Different parts of plants produce a variety of volatile oils with distinct biological activities, including antibacterial and antifungal properties. These characteristics position them as potential substitutes for traditional antibiotics.” He added that these three essential oils are recognised for their broad health benefits and pharmacological properties, including antioxidant, antiviral, antidiabetic, analgesic, and insecticidal effects. Notably, their volatile oils have potent antimicrobial activity against several microbial strains in food spoilage.

The study revealed that the antimicrobial efficacy of these oils varies with the concentration of their chemical constituents. A 2% blend of sweet orange, lentisk, and lemon eucalyptus oils successfully inhibited certain microbial species.

The research team discovered specific combinations of these oils, in precise percentages, that optimally inhibit the growth of pathogens such as C. albicans, S. aureus, E. coli, S. enterica, and B. cereus.

The findings underscore the enhanced antimicrobial activity when two or three of these essential oils are combined, offering a potent solution for microbial control. Remarkably, the research identified four optimal mixtures effective against E. coli, S. aureus, S. enterica, and B. cereus, all requiring nearly identical ratios for maximum efficacy.

These optimal combinations, expressed as percentages of lemon eucalyptus, lentisk, and sweet orange essential oils, propose a viable alternative to commercial pharmaceuticals and chemical preservatives. This is particularly significant as traditional antimicrobial agents lose efficacy against an expanding range of microbes, leading to severe infectious diseases and food spoilage.