The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 18 No. 1 • April 2015


Killing Food-borne Pathogens with Liquid Smoke Estimated Episodes of Foodborne Illness in the U.S.

Two lengthy recent review papers1,2 on foodborne illness report that each year 31 major pathogens caused an estimated 9.4 million episodes of foodborne illness, with 55,961 hospitalizations and 1,351 deaths. In addition to that, there were another 38.4 million estimated episodes (90% credible interval 19.8 to 61.2 million) of domestically derived foodborne illnesses caused by unknown or unspecified agents, resulting in another 71,878 hospitalizations. When you include known agents not known to be transmitted in food and microbes, chemicals, or other substances in food that might transmit disease, you end up with even more. Clearly, the burden on stricken individuals and overall social costs of these illnesses are immense. Data were derived from multiple sources. For example, the authors1 estimated total deaths caused by acute gastroenteritis by using multiple cause-of-death data from the National Vital Statistics System (2000 – 2006).

Liquid Smoke As An All-Natural Antimicrobial for Preventing Foodborne Illness

In addition to adding a very pleasant taste and aroma to food at appropriate concentrations, liquid smoke is reported3 to be an effective way to kill many common foodborne pathogens.

Liquid smoke is made commercially by condensing smoke from various types of wood (as chips or sawdust) using a controlled process of minimal oxygen pyrolysis. The gases released in the process are chilled in condensers, which liquefies them. Then the liquid smoke is forced through refining vats and filtered to remove toxic and carcinogenic impurities such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). The paper3 reports that although PAH are highly toxic, they also have very low water solubility allowing for relatively easy removal by liquid smoke manufacturers.

Different types of wood result in liquid smoke with varying degrees of microbicidal activity against particular pathogens. There were a lot of details3 concerning the use of liquid smoke to treat various types of food. Incorporating liquid smoke in a food product such as frankfurters at 2.5%, 5%, or 10% wt/wt in Zesti Smoke, a branded liquid smoke, suppressed the growth of Listeria but at 10% liquid smoke sensory taste panels rated the frankfurters as somewhat less acceptable than lower concentrations of liquid smoke. The treatment of meats (by infusing them with liquid smoke, for example) intended to be frozen for a period of time appears to be the most likely use by consumers as exposure of the food to the liquid smoke for an extended period would appear necessary to get the microbicidal effects. Generally cooking meat to a high enough temperature would eliminate the need for microbicides, but it is probably more common than not for consumers to fail to use a thermometer to ensure reaching an adequate temperature for a long enough period of time to eliminate the microbes.


  1. Scallan et al. Foodborne illness acquired in the United States  —  Unspecified agents. Emerg Infect Dis. 17(1):16 – 22 (2011).
  2. Scallan et al. Foodborne illness acquired in the United States  —  Major pathogens. Emerg Infect Dis. 17(1):7 – 15 (2011).
  3. Lingbeck et al. Functionality of liquid smoke as an all-natural antimicrobial in food preservation. Meat Sci. 97:197 – 206 (2014).

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