University of Georgia researchers have tested an essential-oil blend of thyme, eucalyptol and oregano that, when fed to chickens in their water source, may help prevent Salmonella contamination, according to their study.

The product, Mix-Oil, is a highly concentrated blend developed by the Italian company Animal Wellness Products. Mix-Oil has been on the market since 2004 and is used for all animal species, including commercially raised fish. The University of Georgia study found the chickens fed Mix-Oil in their water had higher weight gains, lower feed conversion rates and lower mortality rates than chickens protected via the traditional methods. They also drank as much water as they did before the Mix-Oil regimen and more water than chickens that were given lactic acid to prevent Salmonella, according to the researchers.

"Chickens consume less water when one of the organic acids, lactic acid, is used because they don't like the taste of it," said Walid Alali, a food safety scientist with the university's Center for Food Saferty. "It can also inflame the chicken's intestines and, over time, it can damage the farm's water pipes." He said that Mix-Oil reduced Salmonella contamination in the chickens just "as well as lactic acid, and it improved the performance of the chickens."

Mix-Oil costs around $500 per 20,000-bird chicken flock to control Salmonella in chickens and improve performance. The researchers' next step will be to test Mix-Oil on a commercial poultry farm. "We have proven the concept," said Alali. "Now we have to take this to the commercial level and see how it performs on an actual farm. We are trying to control Salmonella in the poultry industry both at the pre-harvest level, on the farm and at the processing plants. This is what we call farm-to-fork control. The industry does its job, and grocers and consumers control what happens after that."