Consumer safety concerns over established fresh produce washing methods, combined with demand for organic and clean label food, has led to the exploration of novel methods of produce sanitization. Essential oils (EOs), extracted from commonly found plants have potential as clean label sanitizers, as they are naturally derived and act as antimicrobials as well as antioxidants. In this review, the antimicrobial abilities of EOs are explored in the following categories: individually and in-combination, as emulsions, combined with existing chemical and physical preservation methods, incorporated into films and coatings, and in vapor phase. We examine combining EOs with one another, with EO components, with surfactants, or with other preservatives or preservation methods to increase sanitizing efficacy. Components of major EOs are also identified, chemical mechanisms are discussed, and potential for antibacterial resistance and effect on organoleptic properties is examined. Studies reveal that EOs can serve as equivalent or better sanitizing agents than chlorine; nevertheless, concentrations must be kept low to avoid adverse sensory effects. For this reason, it is crucial that future studies address the maximum permissible EO concentrations, which do not negatively affect sensory properties. This review should be beneficial to food scientists or industry personnel interested in sanitization and preservation of foods, including fresh produce with EOs.
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