Bountica’s ‘ProServatives’ Set to Shake Up Food Preservation Industry

Israeli startup Bountica is poised to revolutionize the food preservation industry with its groundbreaking development of tasteless proteins branded as ‘ProServatives.’ These proteins, which the company claims are highly effective against a wide range of food pathogens and spoilage organisms, leverage a mechanism known as ‘nutritional immunity.’ Backed by Israel’s Fresh Start incubator, Bountica employs precision fermentation to produce a protein integral to the human innate immune system. “We’ve just found a way to commercialize it for the food & beverage market,” CEO Dan Sztybel explained to AgFunderNews.

Sztybel, who joined Bountica as CEO on May 1 after discovering the startup while leading Save Foods, elaborated on the discovery and potential of these proteins. The founders—computational biologist Dr. Maayan Gal, biochemist Professor Zvi Hayouka, and entrepreneurs Fabian Trumper and Shay Hilel—screened numerous peptides before identifying a family of proteins effective against pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, as well as fungi and yeast. The proteins work by sequestering essential nutrients like iron and zinc, effectively starving the pathogens and halting their growth.

Expressing antimicrobial proteins in microbes through precision fermentation presents significant challenges, primarily because these proteins can be toxic to the host microbes. However, Bountica has engineered its bacteria to express the target proteins intracellularly, avoiding toxicity issues. Post-fermentation, the proteins are extracted from the host cells, a process that Sztybel claims is not prohibitively expensive. “It’s not that expensive so far, based on the techno-economic analysis that we have run,” he said, adding that the company is optimizing the process and utilizing contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) to scale up without heavy capital expenditure.

The food preservation landscape is undergoing a transformation, driven by increasing scrutiny of artificial preservatives. Ingredients like TBHQ and sodium benzoate are being listed as unacceptable by many retailers, foodservice companies, and manufacturers, while certain preservatives, such as propyl paraben, face legislative bans in places like California. As a result, the industry is exploring alternatives, ranging from natural preservatives like nisin and natamycin to innovative solutions like Bountica’s antimicrobial proteins.

Bountica’s proteins offer several advantages over existing preservatives. They are effective across a wide pH range, have good heat stability, and require only a low inclusion rate, making them suitable for a variety of food applications, including hummus, bakery products, salads, spreads, sauces, and both meat and plant-based meats. “Some applications we’re looking at are very hard to preserve unless you add very significant amounts of existing preservatives,” Sztybel noted. “Whereas we’re using a very small concentration… usually between 0.05% to 0.3% of the total volume of the product.”

One specific application under development is the replacement of calcium propionate in bakery products. Bountica’s protein also shows promise in extending the shelf life of fresh hummus without the need to lower pH levels or add synthetic preservatives. Sztybel highlighted its potential in non-alcoholic beverages, where preservatives are typically required to ensure safety and extend shelf life.

Bountica is initially targeting the US market and plans to navigate the self-GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) process rather than the more cumbersome food additive process. In Europe, the company is still evaluating the most appropriate regulatory pathway. The labeling of these proteins is yet to be determined.

The startup recently attracted investment from Sparkalis, the corporate venture arm of bakery giant Puratos, and is collaborating with Puratos to explore the potential applications of its proteins. As the food industry continues to seek safer, more effective preservation methods, Bountica’s innovative approach could mark a significant shift towards more natural and efficient solutions.

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