Characterization of aerobic spore-forming bacteria associated with industrial dairy processing environments and product spoilage
Genia Lücking, Marina Stoeckel, Zeynep Atamer, Jörg Hinrichs, Monika Ehling-Schulz
Department of Microbiology, Central Institute for Food and Nutrition Research, Technische Universität München, 85350 Freising, Germany.
Due to changes in the design of industrial food processing and increasing international trade, highly thermoresistant spore-forming bacteria are an emerging problem in food production. Minimally processed foods and products with extended shelf life, such as milk products, are at special risk for contamination and subsequent product damages, but information about origin and food quality related properties of highly heat-resistant spore-formers is still limited. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine the biodiversity, heat resistance, and food quality and safety affecting characteristics of aerobic spore-formers in the dairy sector. Thus, a comprehensive panel of strains (n = 467), which originated from dairy processing environments, raw materials and processed foods, was compiled. The set included isolates associated with recent food spoilage cases and product damages as well as isolates not linked to product spoilage. Identification of the isolates by means of Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy and molecular methods revealed a large biodiversity of spore-formers, especially among the spoilage associated isolates. These could be assigned to 43 species, representing 11 genera, with Bacillus cereus s.l. and Bacillus licheniformis being predominant. A screening for isolates forming thermoresistant spores (TRS, surviving 100 °C, 20 min) showed that about one third of the tested spore-formers was heat-resistant, with Bacillus subtilis and Geobacillus stearothermophilus being the prevalent species. Strains producing highly thermoresistant spores (HTRS, surviving 125 °C, 30 min) were found among mesophilic as well as among thermophilic species. B. subtilis and Bacillus amyloliquefaciens were dominating the group of mesophilic HTRS, while Bacillus smithii and Geobacillus pallidus were dominating the group of thermophilic HTRS. Analysis of spoilage-related enzymes of the TRS isolates showed that mesophilic strains, belonging to the B. subtilis and B. cereus groups, were strongly proteolytic, whereas thermophilic strains displayed generally a low enzymatic activity and thus spoilage potential. Cytotoxicity was only detected in B. cereus, suggesting that the risk of food poisoning by aerobic, thermoresistant spore-formers outside of the B. cereus group is rather low.