The article caught my eye because I'm fascinated by what I do *not* know about what I'm eating -- and the lengths I have to go to find out. Last year, I noticed the ingredient list on a package of shredded cheese and was surprised to see "natamycin."
Huh? I thought. I'm eating my cheese with a side of antibiotics? I've known about drugs used in livestock agriculture for a long time, but I didn't know that I was ingesting them directly from my own food. After some web searching, I found that natamycin is natural extract from bacteria and it prevents the growth of fungus.
So I called up Randy Worobo to ask some questions about natamycin. Why is it in there? He said it's because the surface of cheese tends to get a little moldy when exposed to air, and shredded cheese has a lot of surface area. In contrast, blocks of cheese can be vacuum-sealed to prevent mold growth, whereas shredded cheese cannot.
The second question I asked: why doesn't the compound appear specifically as a drug on the ingredient list? (I was thinking about the standard labels that appear on over-the-counter drugs). He explained that compounds are only considered drugs when highly purified. Since natamycin is a natural extract from bacteria, it doesn't have to be labeled as a drug. Interestingly, however, natamycin is used as a drug (often in the form of cream) to treat fungal infections in people.
Natamycin is widely considered safe (and it is used instead of chemical preservatives). But I still wonder: is it truly necessary? When mass quantities are used in industrial food prep, does it leach into our environment?
I'm still scratching my head.