A starter culture for processed meats, which increase the chances of developing cancer in humans according to the World Health Organization (WHO), may be in the offing. This development will help pave the way for a better alternative in processing meats.

Dr. Francis B. Elegado of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotech or simply BIOTECH of UP Los Baños and his team developed a probiotic starter culture for meats in a research project supported by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) under the program “Enhancement of Biotechnology Products and Services for Agro-Industrial Applications.”

Probiotics are good bacteria, or those that help keep you healthy. Meanwhile, a starter culture is a biotechnology application that starts the fermentation process for food. According to Elegado, they have a wide collection of starter cultures at Biotech.

Aside from diminishing the probability of the meat to cause cancer, the starter culture can also be used as a tenderizer, preservative, and taste enhancer for the meat products. It is a good alternative to sodium nitrate or salitre, used to cure ham and tocino.

Elegado said that so far, the team has very encouraging lab results, but they still need to scale it up to be ready for industry.

Recently, WHO said that processed foods such as bacon, sausages, hotdogs, salami, corned beef, ham, canned meat and meat-based sauces cause people to develop cancer due to the modification process they undergo through smoking, curing, and addition of salt and preservatives to either extend its shelf life or alter its taste.

Originally, his team was developing local starter culture that can help small to medium dairy manufacturers of various dairy products.

However, based on a survey of industry needs, they found that local manufacturers of dairy products account for only 15-20% of the overall dairy manufacturers in the Philippines. Also, multinational companies have their own starter cultures or are already developing their own starters. Pricing and cost are other factors, plus the fact that the Philippines is not a dairy producing country due to its tropical climate.

Hence, they tried using the starter cultures in meat processing. Although the starter culture used for yogurt is totally different from meat however, with the technology and knowledge that they now possess, it can be used for other potential products.

To know more about the research and other technologies and products in biotechnology, please come to the National Biotechnology Week on November 23-28 at the SM City Dasmariñas, Cavite. Admission is free.

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