Antibacterial activity of selected plant essential oils against Escherichia coli O157:H7

Lett Appl Microbiol. 2003;36(3):162-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1472-765x.2003.01285.x.


Aims: To quantify the antibacterial properties of five essential oils (EO) on a non-toxigenic strain of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in the presence and absence of a stabilizer and an emulsifier and at three different temperatures.

Methods and results: Five EOs known to exhibit antibacterial properties were screened by disc diffusion assay and the most active were selected for further study in microdilution colorimetric assays. Oregano (Origanum vulgare) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris; light and red varieties) EO had the strongest bacteriostatic and bactericidal properties, followed by bay (Pimenta racemosa) and clove bud (Eugenia caryophyllata synonym: Syzygium aromaticum) EO. Oregano oil was colicidal at 625 microl l(-1) at 10, 20 and 37 degrees C. The addition of 0.05% (w/v) agar as stabilizer reinforced the antibacterial properties, particularly at 10 degrees C, whereas 0.25% (w/v) lecithin reduced antibacterial activity. Scanning electron micrographs showed extensive morphological changes to treated cells.

Conclusions: Oregano and thyme EO possess significant in vitro colicidal and colistatic properties, which are exhibited in a broad temperature range and substantially improved by the addition of agar as stabilizer. Bay and clove bud EO are less active. Lecithin diminished antibacterial properties. The bactericidal concentration of oregano EO irreversibly damaged E. coli O157:H7 cells within 1 min.

Significance and impact of the study: Oregano and light thyme EO, particularly when enhanced by agar stabilizer, may be effective in reducing the number or preventing the growth of E. coli O157:H7 in foods.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Agar / metabolism
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Colorimetry / methods
  • Culture Media
  • Escherichia coli O157 / drug effects*
  • Escherichia coli O157 / ultrastructure
  • Food Microbiology
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism
  • Plant Oils / pharmacology*
  • Spices / analysis
  • Spices / classification
  • Temperature


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Culture Media
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Plant Oils
  • Agar