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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/Herbs Under Wraps

Air Date: Week of November 28, 2003

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that basil infused plastic wrap might help keep food fresh longer.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Just ahead: the bird is gone but its legend lives on. A man, his kayak and his passion for the Great Auk. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

GRABER: Basil is famous around the world for the flavor it brings to food. And now scientists have demonstrated that chemicals in the herb can help keep food fresh longer, too.

So, researchers in Israel and Australia are working to harness the power of basil to fortify plastic wrap. Disease-causing bacteria can thrive in the outer layers of meat and cheese. So scientists decided to add basil extracts to packaging to try to kill this bacteria. The plastic contains two extracts from basil in such small amounts that they don’t impart any flavor to the food. Instead, the extracts slowly leak from the plastic to attack and destroy bacteria cell walls.

Tests have shown that cheddar cheese wrapped in basil plastic remains bacteria-free for a week longer than cheddar wrapped in conventional plastic wrap. Scientists’ next challenge is to prevent the basil extracts from escaping into the atmosphere through the plastic. So they’re developing a wrap with an impermeable outer layer, and a porous inner layer that allows molecules to migrate toward the bacteria on the food. If all goes well, basil-fortified plastic wrap may reach stores as early as next year.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Cynthia Graber.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

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