Common kitchen spices may reduce the deadliness of the E. coli O157 toxin, according to a news study in the Journal of Food Science.

The study, conducted by scientists at the University of Tokushima in Japan and published by the Institute of Food Technologists, tested extracts of 20 different kitchen spices including allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon and measured their effects on the growth and production of toxins found in E. coli.

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Scientists found that eugenol, an active component of allspice, “significantly” reduced E. coli O157 toxin growth. Clove extract also “slowed or halted” E. coli O157 growth, but to a lesser extent. 

“In addition to adding flavor, aroma, color, taste, and texture to foods, many spices and their essential oils are known to possess various bioactivities antibacterial, antioxidant, antiviral, and antidiabetic activities,” but to date there had been no reports on the effects spices might have on E. coli O157, according to the study.

“Our results show that eugenol is effective in reducing the virulence of E. coli O157,” said researcher Kumio Yokoigawa. 

Eugenol extract is found in both allspice and cloves, and according to the published findings is well known for its antibacterial properties.

A study by researches at Kansas State University (KSU) released in 1998 also explored the antimicrobial properties of spices. The study focused on the role spices might play in reducing E. coli O157:H7 in ground meat.

Researchers looked at 24 spices paired with foodborne pathogens in uncooked hamburger and uncooked salami. They found that cloves had the highest inhibitory effect in hamburger, but also saw reductions with cinnamon, garlic, oregano, and sage.

Though evidence seems to suggest spices can help keep E. coli at bay, researchers have not determined whether the spices tested are similar to the levels consumers use in their food  day to day. Consequently, consumers are advised to always use safe food handling practices.