Cinnamon, spice of life

It kills E.coli and may fight other food poisoning bugs, say scientists

IT is perhaps best known for nothing more exciting than adding the distinctive flavour to a hot cross bun. But scientists have now discovered that cinnamon can fight the bacteria that causes a deadly form of food poisoning. They found that adding the spice to food is the most effective way - after cooking and pasteurisation - of killing the E.coli bug. The researchers, from Kansas State University, believe cinnamon may also be able to fight other harmful bacteria which is present in food, such as salmonella and campylobacter. E.Coli was responsible for one of the world’s worst outbreaks of food poisoning in Scotland in 1996, when 20 customers from a butcher’s shop in Lanarkshire died after eating meat contaminated by the bug.

In the United States, however, It Is apple juice that has been linked to at least one major outbreak of food poisoning, in which a girl died and 66 other people became ill.

The Kansas research found that just one teaspoon of cinnamon added to apple juice killed 99.5 per cent of the E.coli bacteria within three days. The discovery followed a study last year in which the same researchers added spices to raw minced beef and sausage meat. They found that garlic and cloves were also powerful in killing E.coli.

Today, 9.5millon people a year are affected by food poisoning in Britain - costing an estimated 743million in lost working hours and medical treatment.

It is also thought that bugs such as E.coli and salmonella kill an average of 60 people a year each. Campylobacter, which is present in two out of five uncooked chickens, is responsible for at least 500,000 cases of serious food poisoning a year.

Cases of food poisoning have risen b 76 per cent since 1988. The number of salmonella cases has rise by nearly ten per cent in the same period.

Cinnamon comes from a small, bushy, evergreen tree which is a native of Sri Lanka, the West Indies, Brazil and Egypt and It has bee used in cooking for centuries. The trees, grown in thou-

sand- acre orchards, are specially cut to allow long and slender shoots to grow. From these, the tender bark is peeled and rolled Into the familiar sticks of commercial cinnamon and allowed to dry in the sun.

The spice, which Is also sold In powdered form or processed for its oil, is sometimes used for its natural healing abilities. It is thought to be particularly effective at easing digestive disorders. A team from Cornell University In New York state recently discounted the suggestion that humans have developed a liking for spices to disguise the taste of spoiled food.

But they also found that the same chemicals that protect the spice plants from their natural enemies are at work In foods ‘destroying bacteria.