Why is Natamycin used?
Natamycin is one of the globally permitted food preservatives to protect a wide variety of products such as cheese, fermented meat, yogurt, beverages, wines and baked goods against yeasts and molds. Due to the benefits of Natamycin as a natural and efficient food preservation method, its application has a huge potential to extend shelf life and prevent spoilage.
Natamycin and shelf life
Natamycin can significantly extend the shelf life of many products. The first and most widely approved application areas for Natamycin are cheese and fermented meat. These food categories require preservation against yeasts and molds, but need to allow cultures (i.e. bacteria) to remain active. For example, a white cheese in Latin America can have a shelf life of 38 days following the application of liquid Natamycin and 26 days with Natamycin powder. Without preservation, its shelf life is less than two weeks.
Natamycin has been tested and approved as a food preservative suitable for human consumption by, amongst others, the European Safety Authority (EFSA), World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The permitted applications differ per country/region.
Effective at low doses and stable at a wide pH range
Natamycin remains stable at a wide pH range (3-9). As most foods have a pH value between pH 4 and pH 7, this makes Natamycin a very versatile food preservative. In order to prevent spoilage in food applications, it works at low dosages between 3-20 ppm. This translates into 3 to 20 mg of Natamycin in 1 kg of a final product.
No color, taste or odor deviations
Unlike many other preservation options, the application of Natamycin in foods does not produce changes in taste, color or odor. This makes it suitable as a food preservative in a wide range of products.
Natamycin is in rare cases used as a topical treatment in applications like eye drops. However, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) “Natamycin-containing drugs for common fungal infections have become nearly obsolete”.
Natamycin is also used to protect crops from spoiling. For example in the US, the outside of oranges can be treated to avoid fungal growth and thereby providing a natural alternative to protect fruits.
Use in the EU
In the European Union, the application of Natamycin is permitted for the surface treatment of semi-soft and semi-hard cheeses, as well as cured meats. As it has no effect on bacteria, Natamycin helps ensure optimal fermentation while protecting products from adverse effects related to the growth of molds and yeasts. Natamycin does not enter a product if used on casings or on rind.
When you accidently eat some rind when eating a piece of cheese, there is a chance you also consume a slight dose of natamycin. That does not matter. Unless you're a fungus.
Yvonne te Welscher, PostDoc in the department of Pharmaceutical Science of Utrecht University investigated why. (source: NEMO Kennislink)