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The microbial population of the intestinal tract is a complex natural resource that can be utilized in an effort to reduce the impact of pathogenic bacteria that affect animal production and efficiency, as well as the safety of food products. Strategies have been devised to reduce the populations of food-borne pathogenic bacteria in animals at the on-farm stage. Many of these techniques rely on harnessing the natural competitive nature of bacteria to eliminate pathogens that negatively impact animal production or food safety. Thus feed products that are classified as probiotics, prebiotics and competitive exclusion cultures have been utilized as pathogen reduction strategies in food animals with varying degrees of success. The efficacy of these products is often due to specific microbial ecological factors that alter the competitive pressures experienced by the microbial population of the gut. A few products have been shown to be effective under field conditions and many have shown indications of effectiveness under experimental conditions and as a result probiotic products are widely used in all animal species and nearly all production systems. This review explores the ecology behind the efficacy of these products against pathogens found in food animals, including those that enter the food chain and impact human consumers.
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