The same chemical used in most mouthwashes for more than half a century has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use on poultry as a way to reduce food-borne illness.
Researcher Cesar Compadre and colleagues at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences spent 10 years and nearly $1 million attempting to prove what later became obvious: The chemical compound CPC provides effective protection against salmonella, E. coli, listeria and other germs.
"CPC has been used since the 1930s in mouthwashes and people tried to use it for cleaning surfaces, but nobody thought to use it to clean meat," Compadre said.
Safe Foods Inc. of North Little Rock, which developed CPC into a spray it will market under the brand name Cecure, announced Wednesday that the FDA told the company it can begin marketing the product as soon as it is published in the Federal Register.
The FDA on Tuesday would not say when that might happen.
While he's proud of the FDA approval, Compadre said that many people did not believe the process would work because it seemed simple. Some questioned why it hadn't been used before.
The chemical has no taste or smell, doesn't change the color of meat and only leaves noticeable residue on foods when they contain a lot of surface fat, Compadre said.
"Bleach is an effective anti-microbial, but it will discolor the meat," Compadre said. "Other chemicals can make the skin soapy and give you what is called 'slick chicken.' We've tested all those chemicals and none was effective as CPC. And bacteria are usually smart enough to build resistance and there's almost no resistance to CPC."
The world's largest meat supplier already has plans for Cecure. Tyson spokesman Ed Nicholson said the company sees promise in the product and will test it as a part of its food safety measures.
Compadre and research colleagues Hamid Salari and Kim Fifer started with a $50,000-a-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After the researchers used additional school funds, Safe Foods came along in 1999 and licensed use of CPC in the Cecure spray.
Safe Foods invested $7 million to test Cecure under poultry processing conditions and usher it through the FDA approval process.
Curtis Coleman, president and chief executive of Safe Foods, said he didn't fully understand how effective CPC, or cetylpyridinium chloride, would be as an anti-microbial when his tiny firm started working on Cecure.
Coleman believes applying Cecure to poultry and later to beef, pork, seafood, fruits and vegetables will significantly reduce the 76 million food-borne illnesses in the United States each year and the approximately 5,000 deaths a year that result.
Safe Foods has sent Cecure to poultry processing companies around the world for their own evaluations and was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm.
"We weren't prepared for the level of interest from the food industry," Coleman said. "But now we are ready to go with marketing Cecure, and we've been ramping up the company. We have 25 employees now - double what we had seven months ago."
By David Hammer