Outbreaks of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 have been commonly associated with products derived from ground beef, but recently the organism has been implicated as the causative agent in outbreaks involving yogurt and cheese. This finding has raised concern about the
potential for its growth and survival in fermented dairy products. A bioluminescent strain of E. coli O157:H7 was used to determine postprocessing survival in yogurt with live cultures at pH 4.17, 4.39, and 4.47 stored at 4 and 10°C. In addition, survival of E. coli O157:H7
was monitored during the manufacture of Cottage, Colby, Romano, and Feta cheeses. Results indicated survival for 8 and 5 days at 4 and 10°C respectively in yogurt at pH 4.17, 17 and 15 days at 4 and 10°C respectively in yogurt at pH 4.39, and 17 days at both 4 and 10°C in yogurt
at pH 4.47. E. coli O157:H7 did not survive cooking procedures at 56°C in Cottage cheese. However, the pathogen survived for 27, 30, and 27 days in Colby, Romano, and Feta cheeses respectively. A high correlation of r2 > 0.89 was obtained between counts of bioluminescenct
colonies and standard plate count for all yogurt and cheese varieties, indicating that bioluminescence was a sensitive and rapid indicator of cellular viability for E. coli O157:H7. Survival of the pathogen, as indicated by this method, is possible in highly acidic environments even
at refrigeration temperatures. This poses a potential hazard should postprocessing contamination occur.
Department of Food Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1
Publication date: August 1, 1997
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