Bacteriophages and Food Safety


Interest in using bacteriophages to improve food safety has been gaining momentum recently, driven by both the continued occurrence of foodborne outbreaks worldwide and the desire of consumers for natural foods. Bacteriophages are naturally part of the normal microflora of many foods, and the ‘phage biocontrol’ approach is based on the concept of using the right phage, in the right place, in the right concentration to control foodborne pathogens. This approach has been applied to three main areas of food safety: (1) pre‐harvest treatment of livestock, (2) decontamination of inanimate surfaces in the processing environment and (3) post‐harvest treatment (i.e. direct food applications). The last type of intervention has perhaps received the most attention, with an increasing number of studies supporting the idea that bacteriophages may provide a safe, environmentally friendly and effective approach for improving food safety, by significantly reducing contamination of various foods with specific foodborne bacterial pathogens.

Key Concepts

  • Bacteriophages may provide a safe, environmentally friendly and effective approach for significantly reducing contamination of various foods with foodborne bacterial pathogens.
  • Several bacteriophage products are commercially available for use in pre‐harvest applications, on food contact surfaces and for direct food (post‐harvest) applications.
  • Bacteriophages are specific; they kill the target pathogen and do not affect the natural microflora of foods.
  • Bacteriophages can reduce levels of bacterial pathogens on food contact surfaces in as little as 5‐min contact time.
  • Bacteriophages can reduce levels of the targeted bacterial pathogen on a variety of foods, including, but not limited to, dairy products, fruits and vegetables and poultry.

Keywords: bacteriophage; phages; food safety; foodborne illness; biocontrol; pathogens; antibacterial


Abuladze T, Li M, Menetrez MY, et al. (2008) Bacteriophages reduce experimental contamination of hard surfaces, tomato, spinach, broccoli, and ground beef by Escherichia coli O157:H7. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 74: 6230–6238.

Aymerich T, Picouet PA and Monfort JM (2008) Decontamination technologies for meat products. Meat Science 78: 114–129.

Bandara N, Jo J, Ryu S and Kim KP (2012) Bacteriophages BCP1‐1 and BCP8‐2 require divalent cations for efficient control of Bacillus cereus in fermented foods. Food Microbiology 31: 9–16.

Bergh O, Borsheim KY, Bratbak G and Heldal M (1989) High abundance of viruses found in aquatic environments. Nature 340: 467–468.

Bigot B, Lee W, McIntyre L, Wilson T and Hudson J (2011) Control of Listeria monocytogenes growth in a ready‐to‐eat poultry product using a bacteriophage. Food Microbiology 28: 1448.

Boyacioglu O, Sharma M, Sulakvelidze A and Goktepe I (2013) Biocontrol of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on fresh‐cut leafy greens. Bacteriophage 3: e24620.

Breitbart M, Hewson I, Felts B, et al. (2003) Metagenomic analyses of an uncultured viral community from human feces. Journal of Bacteriology 185: 6220–6223.

Bruttin A and Brüssow H (2005) Human volunteers receiving Escherichia coli phage T4 orally: a safety test of phage therapy. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 49: 2874–2878.

Bueno E, García P, Martínez B and Rodríguez A (2012) Phage inactivation of Staphylococcus aureus in fresh and hard‐type cheeses. International Journal of Food Microbiology 158: 23–27.

Campagna C, Villion M, Labrie SJ, Duchaine C and Moineau S (2014) Inactivation of dairy bacteriophages by commercial sanitizers and disinfectants. International Journal of Food Microbiology 171: 41–47.

CDC (2014) Surveillance for foodborne disease outbreaks, United States, 2012. In: Services, US Department of Health and Human Services. (e d.). CDC, Atlanta, Georgia.

Chibeu A, Agius L, Gao A, et al. (2013) Efficacy of bacteriophage LISTEX™ P100 combined with chemical antimicrobials in reducing Listeria monocytogenes in cooked turkey and roast beef. International Journal of Food Microbiology 167: 208–214.

Crutchfield SR and Roberts T (2000) Food safety efforts accelerate in the 1990's. FoodReview 23: 44–49.

Dalmasso M, Hill C and Ross RP (2014) Exploiting gut bacteriophages for human health. Trends in Microbiology 22: 399–405.

Endersen L, Coffey A, Neve H, et al. (2012) Isolation and characterisation of six novel mycobacteriophages and investigation of their antimicrobial potential in milk. International Dairy Journal 28: 8.

Ferguson S, Roberts C, Handy E and Sharma M (2013) Lytic bacteriophages reduce Escherichia coli O157:H7 on fresh cut lettuce introduced through cross‐contamination. Bacteriophage 3: e24323.

Ganegama Arachchi GJ, Cridge AG, Dias‐Wanigasekera BM, et al. (2013) Effectiveness of phages in the decontamination of Listeria monocytogenes adhered to clean stainless steel, stainless steel coated with fish protein, and as a biofilm. Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology 40: 1105–1116.

Guenther S and Loessner MJ (2011) Bacteriophage biocontrol of Listeria monocytogenes on soft ripened white mold and red‐smear cheeses. Bacteriophage 1: 94–100.

Guenther S, Herzig O, Fieseler L, Klumpp J and Loessner MJ (2012) Biocontrol of Salmonella Typhimurium in RTE foods with the virulent bacteriophage FO1‐E2. International Journal of Food Microbiology 154: 66–72.

Harper DR, Burrowes BH and Kutter EM (2014) Bacteriophage: Therapeutic Uses, eLS. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Hudson J, Billington C, Wilson T and On S (2013) Effect of phage and host concentration on the inactivation of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on cooked and raw beef. Food Science and Technology International. DOI: 10.1177/1082013213513031.pub2.

Hungaro, HM, Mendonça, RCS, Gouvêa, DM, et al. 2013 Use of bacteriophages to reduce Salmonella in chicken skin in comparison with chemical agents. Food Research International, 52: 75–81.

Kang HW, Kim JW, Jung TS and Woo GJ (2013) wksl3, a New biocontrol agent for Salmonella enterica serovars Enteritidis and Typhimurium in foods: characterization, application, sequence analysis, and oral acute toxicity study. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79: 1956–1968.

Kennedy JEJ, Oblinger JL and Bitton G (1984) Recovery of coliphages from chicken, pork sausage and delicatessen meats. Journal of Food Protection vol. 47.

Kim KP, Klumpp J and Loessner MJ (2007) Enterobacter sakazakii bacteriophages can prevent bacterial growth in reconstituted infant formula. International Journal of Food Microbiology 115: 195–203.

Kot W, Neve H, Heller KJ and Vogensen FK (2014) Bacteriophages of Leuconostoc, Oenococcus, and Weissella. Frontiers in Microbiology 5: 186.

Leverentz B, Conway WS, Alavidze Z, et al. (2001) Examination of bacteriophage as a biocontrol method for Salmonella on fresh‐cut fruit: a model study. Journal of Food Protection 64: 1116–1121.

Leverentz B, Conway WS, Camp MJ, et al. (2003) Biocontrol of Listeria monocytogenes on fresh‐cut produce by treatment with lytic bacteriophages and a bacteriocin. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 69: 4519–4526.

Magnone JP, Marek PJ, Sulakvelidze A and Senecal AG (2013) Additive approach for inactivation of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Shigella spp. on contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables using bacteriophage cocktail and produce wash. Journal of Food Protection 76: 1336–1341.

Maniloff J (2012) Bacteriophages, eLS. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

McLean SK, Dunn LA and Palombo EA (2013) Phage inhibition of Escherichia coli in ultrahigh‐temperature‐treated and raw milk. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease 10: 956–962.

O'Connor R (2014) How foster farms is solving the case of the mystery Salmonella. In: Charles D (ed). The Salt. Washington, D.C.: NPR News.

Oliveira M, Viñas I, Colàs P, et al. (2014) Effectiveness of a bacteriophage in reducing Listeria monocytogenes on fresh‐cut fruits and fruit juices. Food Microbiology 38: 137–142.

Painter J, Hoekstra R, Ayers T, et al. (2013) Attribution of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths to food commodities by using outbreak data, United States, 1998–2008. Emerging Infectious Diseases [Internet] 19: 407–415.

Rodriguez E, Seguer J, Rocabayera X and Manresa A (2004) Cellular effects of monohydrochloride of L‐arginine, N‐lauroyl ethylester (LAE) on exposure to Salmonella Typhimurium and Staphylococcus aureus. Journal of Applied Microbiology 96: 903–912.

Rohwer F, Prangishvili D and Lindell D (2009) Roles of viruses in the environment. Environmental Microbiology 11: 2771–2774.

Sapers GM, Solomon EB and Matthews KR (2009) The Produce Contamination Problem: Causes and Solutions. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Scallan E, Hoekstra RM, Angulo FJ, et al. (2011) Foodborne illness acquired in the United States – major pathogens. Emerging Infectious Diseases 17: 7–15.

Silva EN, Figueiredo AC, Miranda FA and de Castro Almeida RC (2014) Control of Listeria monocytogenes growth in soft cheeses by bacteriophage P100. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology: (publication of the Brazilian Society for Microbiology) 45: 11–16.

Soni KA, Desai M, Oladunjoye A, Skrobot F and Nannapaneni R (2012) Reduction of Listeria monocytogenes in queso fresco cheese by a combination of listericidal and listeriostatic GRAS antimicrobials. International Journal of Food Microbiology 155: 82–88.

Spricigo DA, Bardina C, Cortes P and Llagostera M (2013) Use of a bacteriophage cocktail to control Salmonella in food and the food industry. International Journal of Food Microbiology 165: 169–174.

Suklim K, Flick GJ Jr and Vichitphan K (2014) Effects of gamma irradiation on the physical and sensory quality and inactivation of Listeria monocytogenes in blue swimming crab meat (Portunus pelagicus). Radiation Physics and Chemistry 103: 22–26.

Sulakvelidze A, Alavidze Z and Morris JG Jr (2001) Bacteriophage therapy. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 45: 649–659.

Tiwari R, Dhama K, Kumar A, Rahal A and Kapoor S (2014) Bacteriophage therapy for safeguarding animal and human health: a review. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences 17: 301–315.

Tomat D, Quiberoni A, Mercanti D and Balagué C (2014) Hard surfaces decontamination of enteropathogenic and Shiga toxin‐producing Escherichia coli using bacteriophages. Food Research International 57: 123–129.

Viazis S, Akhtar M, Feirtag J and Diez‐Gonzalez F (2010) Reduction of Escherichia coli O157:H7 viability on leafy green vegetables by treatment with a bacteriophage mixture and trans‐cinnamaldehyde. Food Microbiology 28: 149.

Woolston J, Parks AR, Abuladze T, et al. (2013) Bacteriophages lytic for rapidly reduce contamination on glass and stainless steel surfaces. Bacteriophage 3: e25697.

Ye J, Kostrzynska M, Dunfield K and Warriner K (2010) Control of Salmonella on sprouting mung bean and alfalfa seeds by using a biocontrol preparation based on antagonistic bacteria and lytic bacteriophages. Journal of Food Protection 73: 9–17.

Zhang H, Wang R and Bao H (2013) Phage inactivation of foodborne Shigella on ready‐to‐eat spiced chicken. Poultry Science 92: 211–217.

Zinno P, Devirgiliis C, Ercolini D, Ongeng D and Mauriello G (2014) Bacteriophage P22 to challenge Salmonella in foods. International Journal of Food Microbiology 191: 69–74.

Further Reading

Billington C, Hudson JA and D'Sa E (2014) Prevention of bacterial foodborne disease using nanobiotechnology. Nanotechnology, Science and Applications 7: 73–83.

Brovko LY, Anany H and Griffiths MW (2012) Bacteriophages for detection and control of bacterial pathogens in food and food‐processing environment. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research 67: 241–288.

Golkar Z, Bagasra O and Pace DG (2014) Bacteriophage therapy: a potential solution for the antibiotic resistance crisis. Journal of Infection in Developing Countries 8: 129–136.

Sharma M (2013) Lytic bacteriophages: potential interventions against enteric bacterial pathogens on produce. Bacteriophage 3: e25518.

Tiwari R, Chakraborty S, Dhama K, et al. (2014) Wonder world of phages: potential biocontrol agents safeguarding biosphere and health of animals and humans‐current scenario and perspectives. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences 17: 316–328.

Vandamme EJ (2014) Phage therapy and phage control: to be revisited urgently!!. Journal of Chemical Technology & Biotechnology 89: 329–333.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Woolston, Joelle, and Sulakvelidze, Alexander(Mar 2015) Bacteriophages and Food Safety. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0025962]