Scientists in Israel believe that they are close to developing a plastics packaging material that incorporates the herb basil to fight lethal food bugs such as E. coli and listeria.

Basil has been found to be effective in preserving food by slowing growth of eight types of deadly bacteria when extracts of the herb methyl chavicol and linalool are incorporated into plastics wrapping. Experiments showed the wrapping extends the shelf-life of products such as cheese, meats, fish and fruits and vegetables by around a week.

The research was lead by Professor Joseph Miltz of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, faculty of Food Engineering and Biotechnology based in Haifa, and by the Victoria University of Melbourne, Australia.

Basil is said to be an ideal packaging choice because it does not taint the flavour of the food, as only small quantities are needed. The extracts on the wrapping are designed to diffuse onto the surface of the food, killing the microorganisms.

More testing is necessary into the development of a multi-layered plastic that prevents the basil from escaping into the outside atmosphere before marketing can take place.

A commercially ready product is anticipated some time next year and will most likely be launched into US and European markets said spokesperson Martha Molnar of the American Technion Society.