Weak organic acids: a panoply of effects on bacteria

Sci Prog. 2003;86(Pt 4):245-69. doi: 10.3184/003685003783238626.


Weak organic acids have been used for centuries to preserve foods, but only recently has the possible mechanism for bacterial growth inhibition been investigated. Although the lowering of internal pH was favored as the cause of growth inhibition, the emphasis has shifted to the anion and its specificity. There are a number of applications of weak organic acids to foods and in the food industry be they pre- or postharvest, However, there is concern that the ability of foodborne pathogens to adapt to these acids may allow longer survival in these commodities and also to better survive transit through the gastric acid barrier of the stomach. Genomic and proteomic approaches have been applied to the identification of genes and proteins that may allow prokaryotes to cope with organic acid stress. These technologies in combination with genetic approaches may provide better identification of genes essential for survival to organic acids. These acids may have other roles: they can induce phenotypic antibiotic resistance, and the high concentrations of these acids in the colon may signal a relationship to diet, colonic microflora, and human health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Carboxylic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology*
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Food Preservatives / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Salmonella / drug effects


  • Carboxylic Acids
  • Fatty Acids
  • Food Preservatives