Roast turkey and cranberry sauce is a classic combination, but home chefs would do well to also cook their turkey with cranberry juice, which a new study has just determined kills common foodborne pathogens.
The study is the first ever to document the antibacterial effects of the American cranberry against the pathogens Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus. All can cause illnesses that may lead to death, such as the deadly outbreak of E.coli-tainted spinach a few years ago.
Turkey and other poultry, if not cooked properly, can sometimes carry such stomach-churning pathogens that can bring unwanted bacterial guests to holiday dinner tables.
Lead author Vivian Chi-Hua Wu told Discovery News that it's "recommended to cook turkey to an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit (if the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit) to ensure the elimination of possible pathogen contamination."
"However, consumers may not often monitor the internal temperature of meat during the cooking process," added Wu, an assistant professor of microbiology and food safety at The University of Maine. Adding cranberry concentrate to the meat, said Wu, may help eliminate bacteria as well.
For the study, which will be published in the December issue of the journal LWT- Food Science and Technology, Wu and her colleagues added cranberry concentrate at various strengths to distilled water. The four pathogens were introduced and monitored for less than a day to a week.
Within five hours at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, Staphylococcus and Listeria were reduced to non-detectable levels. After a day, no pathogens were detected in the cranberry concentrate.
Very high magnification provided by transmission electron microscopy showed cranberry juice destroying the bacteria cell by cell. It appears that the tart berry's acid eats into bacterial cell walls, spilling their "guts," which are then attacked by numerous antimicrobial compounds also present in the berry.
At first Wu and her team thought the acid alone might be the active component, so they created a citric acid, malic acid and quinic acid concoction to see how it would handle the introduced pathogens. It wasn't nearly as effective as the cranberry concentrate.
The researchers suspect phenolics, a class of chemical compounds in cranberries that include color pigments and flavor compounds, join forces with the berry's natural acid to create a killer one-two punch that wipes out bacteria.
"Natural phenolic compounds are gaining more and more interest these days due to their potential health benefits," Wu said. "Berries, like cranberries, are rich in phenolic compounds."
Drinking cranberry juice and eating cranberries, such as in cranberry sauce, may inhibit the development and progression of cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to other research. For poultry preparation, however, cooks are advised to marinate the meat in a white cranberry juice brine, and/or to baste the turkey with white cranberry juice, which can be mixed with melted butter, herbs and other seasonings.
More good news for cranberry growers and lovers is that a new cranberry hybrid has just been introduced to the market. It looks and tastes like regular cranberries, but it results in higher yields and is so hardy that it reduces the need for herbicides and pesticides, according to the hybrid's inventor, Nicholi Vorsa of Rutgers University.
Vorsa said the new cranberry, called Crimson Queen, will help to satisfy year-round cranberry cravings for juices, fruit drinks and "craisins," in addition to going into winter holiday sauces.
Wu said cranberries might even wind up in burgers.
She explained that one of her earlier studies found "a hamburger containing cranberry concentrate amounting to five percent of its weight was accepted by testers," resulting in a safer, healthier burger with no discernable cranberry overtones.
Wu concluded, "Incorporating cranberries into food preparation, one day, may be a natural way to minimize food contamination."