"We were surprised that dodecenal was such a potent antibiotic," says study leader Isao Kubo, Ph.D., a chemist with the University of California, Berkeley.
Most natural antibacterial agents found in food generally have weak activity.
"The study suggests that people should eat more salsa with their food, especially fresh salsa," Kubo
In addition to dodecenal, about a dozen other antibiotic compounds were isolated from fresh cilantro that show some activity against a variety of harmful bacteria.
Salsa likely contains even more antibacterial compounds that have not yet been identified, according to Kubo
The findings could lead to expanded use of dodecenal as a tasteless food additive to prevent foodborne illness, perhaps as a protective coating for meats in processing plants, or even as a general purpose disinfectant to be used in cleaning and hand washing, Kubo
But don't rely on salsa alone to safeguard your food: There's only a small amount of the potent antibacterial in a typical serving.
"If you were eating a hot dog or hamburger," explains Kubo
, "you would probably have to eat an equivalent weight of cilantro to have an optimal effect against food poisoning."
As the compound does not appear to interfere with any of the protein-manufacturing machinery of the cell, as occurs with many commercial antibiotics, bacteria are less likely to develop resistance to it, Kubo