ε-Polylysine Hydrochloride: A Promising Strategy for Controlling Foodborne Pathogens.


Foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus are major contributors to foodborne illnesses worldwide. These pathogens can contaminate food at various stages of production, processing, and storage, leading to severe health consequences and economic losses. Traditional methods of controlling these pathogens, including heat treatment and chemical preservatives, have limitations such as nutrient loss, adverse health effects, and consumer resistance.

ε-Polylysine hydrochloride (ε-PLH) has emerged as a promising natural antimicrobial agent for controlling foodborne pathogens. ε-PLH is a cationic homopolymer of L-lysine, produced by bacterial fermentation. It is effective against a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, and is recognized for its safety and efficacy in food preservation. This article delves into the properties, mechanisms of action, benefits, regulatory status, and practical applications of ε-PLH in the food industry.

ε-Polylysine Hydrochloride: An Overview

ε-Polylysine hydrochloride is derived from ε-polylysine (ε-PL), which consists of lysine residues linked by peptide bonds between the epsilon amino and alpha carboxyl groups. ε-PLH is produced through the fermentation of Streptomyces albulus. It is a water-soluble, cationic polymer with antimicrobial properties that are effective across a broad pH range.

Mechanisms of Action

The antimicrobial action of ε-PLH primarily involves disrupting the cell membranes of microorganisms. The cationic nature of ε-PLH allows it to interact with the negatively charged components of microbial cell membranes, such as phospholipids and lipopolysaccharides. This interaction leads to:

Membrane Disruption: ε-PLH binds to the cell membrane, causing structural disintegration and increased permeability. This results in the leakage of cellular contents and eventual cell death.

Inhibition of Cell Wall Synthesis: ε-PLH interferes with the synthesis of essential cell wall components, weakening the cell structure and making it more susceptible to osmotic stress and lysis.

Interference with Cellular Functions: By disrupting the membrane integrity, ε-PLH affects various cellular functions, including nutrient uptake, energy production, and enzyme activity, ultimately leading to microbial cell death.

Benefits of ε-Polylysine Hydrochloride in Food Preservation

Broad-Spectrum Antimicrobial Activity: ε-PLH is effective against a wide range of foodborne pathogens, including Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, yeasts, and molds. This broad-spectrum activity makes it suitable for various food products.

Natural and Safe: ε-PLH is a natural antimicrobial compound derived from lysine, an essential amino acid. It has been shown to be safe for human consumption, with no adverse effects reported at typical usage levels.

Thermal Stability: ε-PLH remains stable under high-temperature conditions, making it suitable for use in processed foods that undergo heat treatments such as pasteurization and cooking.

pH Stability: ε-PLH retains its antimicrobial efficacy across a wide pH range, from acidic to neutral conditions. This property allows its application in various food matrices with different pH levels.

Low Risk of Resistance Development: Unlike traditional antibiotics, the risk of microbial resistance development to ε-PLH is relatively low. This is due to its unique mode of action, which targets the microbial cell membrane.

Regulatory Considerations

The use of ε-PLH in food products is subject to regulatory approval to ensure safety and efficacy. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted ε-PLH Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status for use in specific food products. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also evaluated the safety of ε-PLH and approved its use as a food additive.

Food manufacturers must comply with relevant regulations and guidelines, including Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), when incorporating ε-PLH into food products. Documentation and validation of ε-PLH's effectiveness, stability, and safety in specific food applications are essential for regulatory approval.

Practical Applications in the Food Industry

Meat and Poultry Products: ε-PLH can be used to enhance the microbial safety and shelf life of meat and poultry products. It can be applied as a surface treatment, incorporated into marinades, or added to packaging materials to inhibit the growth of pathogens such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.

Dairy Products: In dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, ε-PLH can help prevent spoilage caused by molds and yeasts. Its thermal stability allows it to be added during the pasteurization process without losing efficacy.

Baked Goods: ε-PLH can extend the shelf life of baked goods by inhibiting mold growth. It can be incorporated into dough formulations or used as a spray on the surface of finished products.

Ready-to-Eat Meals: In ready-to-eat meals and convenience foods, ε-PLH can help control microbial contamination during processing and storage. Its broad-spectrum activity ensures the safety and quality of these products.

Beverages: ε-PLH can be used in beverages such as fruit juices and soft drinks to control spoilage organisms and extend shelf life. Its pH stability makes it suitable for acidic beverages.

Case Studies and Research Findings

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of ε-PLH in controlling foodborne pathogens and extending the shelf life of various food products. For instance, a study by Shima et al. (1984) investigated the antimicrobial activity of ε-PLH against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus in meat products. The results showed a significant reduction in bacterial counts, highlighting ε-PLH's potential for preserving meat products.

Another study by Hiraki (1995) evaluated the use of ε-PLH in mayonnaise and salad dressings. The research found that ε-PLH effectively inhibited the growth of spoilage bacteria and extended the shelf life of these products without affecting their sensory attributes.

Further research by Yoshida et al. (2001) explored the application of ε-PLH in dairy products. The study demonstrated that ε-PLH prevented mold growth in cheese and yogurt, enhancing their shelf life and safety.

Challenges and Future Directions

While ε-PLH holds great promise for controlling foodborne pathogens, several challenges need to be addressed:

Cost Considerations: The production and incorporation of ε-PLH can add to the overall cost of food products. Manufacturers need to balance the benefits of enhanced microbial safety with the economic feasibility of ε-PLH use.

Consumer Perception: Educating consumers about the safety and benefits of ε-PLH is crucial for its acceptance. Public awareness campaigns can help dispel misconceptions and promote the use of natural antimicrobial agents in food.

Research and Innovation: Ongoing research is needed to explore new formulations, delivery methods, and synergistic combinations of ε-PLH with other natural antimicrobials. Innovations in fermentation technology and peptide synthesis may also reduce production costs and improve efficacy.

Regulatory Harmonization: Harmonizing regulatory guidelines across different regions can facilitate the global adoption of ε-PLH in food products. Clear and consistent regulations will provide manufacturers with a defined framework for its use.


ε-Polylysine hydrochloride offers a promising strategy for controlling foodborne pathogens and enhancing the safety and quality of food products. Its broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, natural origin, thermal and pH stability, and low risk of resistance development make it an ideal candidate for various food applications. However, successful implementation requires careful consideration of cost, consumer perception, research, and regulatory compliance. Continued research, regulatory harmonization, and public education will be key to unlocking the full potential of ε-PLH in the food industry. By embracing this natural antimicrobial compound, manufacturers can provide safer, higher-quality food products to meet the growing consumer demand for safe and nutritious foods.