Emulsions of essential oils are investigated as potential intervention strategies to improve food safety and are preferably prepared from generally-recognized-as-safe emulsifiers. Stable thyme oil nanoemulsions can be prepared using combinations of sodium caseinate (NaCas) and soy lecithin. The objective of the present research was to study the antimicrobial activity of these nanoemulsions and understand the impacts of emulsifier concentrations. 10 g/L thyme oil was emulsified using combinations of (A) 4% w/v NaCas and 0.5% w/v lecithin or (B) 2% w/v NaCas and 0.25% w/v lecithin by high shear homogenization. Combination A resulted in a transparent emulsion with a mean droplet diameter of 82.5 nm, while it was turbid for the Combination B with an average diameter of 125.5 nm. Nanoemulsified thyme oil exhibited quicker initial reductions of bacteria than free thyme oil in tryptic soy broth (TSB) and 2% reduced fat milk at 21 °C, due to the improved dispersibility of thyme oil. In TSB with 0.3 g/L thyme oil, it took less than 4 and 8 h for two nanoemulsions and free oil, respectively, to reduce Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes to be below the detection limit. The emulsified thyme oil also demonstrated more significant reductions of bacteria initially (4 and 8 h) in 2% reduced fat milk than free thyme oil. Especially, with 4 g/L thyme oil, the nanoemulsion prepared with Combination A reduced L. monocytogenes to be below the detection limit after 72 h, while the free thyme oil treatment was only bacteriostatic and the turbid nanoemulsion treatment with Combination B resulted in about 1 log CFU/mL reduction. However, E. coli O157:H7 treated with 3 g/L emulsified thyme oil and Salmonella Enteritidis treated with 4 g/L emulsified thyme oil recovered to a higher extent in milk than free thyme oil treatments. The increased concentration of emulsifiers in Combination A apparently reduced the antimicrobials available to alter bacteria membrane permeability as tested by the crystal violet assay at low antimicrobial concentrations and short time (1 h). The findings suggest that nanoemulsions can be potentially used to incorporate thyme oil for use as antimicrobial preservatives in foods.
Keywords: Antimicrobial activity; Lecithin; Membrane permeability; Sodium caseinate; Thyme oil nanoemulsion.
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