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Potential Use of Presumptive Enterococci and Staphylococci as Indicators of Sanitary Condition in Plants Making Hard Italian-Type Cheese

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Raw milk, pasteurized milk, unripened cheese (1 day old), and partially ripened cheese (3 months) from 42 milk lots at a plant making hard Italian-type cheese were analyzed for presumptive enterococci using kanamycin esculin azide agar pour plates. Fully ripened (≥10 months) cheeses, derived from other milk lots, were also tested. Numbers of presumptive staphylococci (Baird-Parker agar [B-P]) were determined in the partially and fully ripened cheeses. Presumptive enterococci were ubiquitous in raw milk, usually at levels of 2.1 to 3.0 log CFU/ml. Enterococci were detected in 11 (26%) of 42 pasteurized milk samples. Enterococci and staphylococci were detected in 39 (93%) and 6 (14%) of unripened cheeses and in 33 (80%) and 4 (10%) of partially ripened cheeses, respectively. Only eight and five samples of enterococci-positive unripened and partially ripened cheese, respectively, were made from pasteurized milk in which presumptive enterococci were detected. Of 42 samples of fully ripened cheese, 35 (83%) and 8 (19%), respectively, contained presumptive enterococci and staphylococci. Results suggest either that low numbers of presumptive enterococci survive pasteurization and cheese ripening or that contamination of cheese by enterococci occurs after pasteurization. Biochemical testing confirmed 63% of presumptive enterococci isolates. None of the 20 presumptive staphylococci isolates produced colonies typical of Staphylococcus aureus on B-P agar; the isolates were identified as 1 Staphylococcus epidermidis, 1 Staphylococcus xylosus, 2 Staphylococcus saprophyticus, 1 Staphylococcus warneri, 5 Kocuria spp., and 10 unidentified gram-positive, catalase-positive cocci. Three staphylococci isolates decreased in numbers by more than 3.0 log CFU/ml in 9.9 ml of skim milk heated 30 min in a 62.8°C water bath. This finding suggests that most presumptive staphylococci detected may have been prepasteurization contaminants. Unless specificity of the kanamycin esculin azide and B-P media is improved, use of presumptive enterococci and staphylococci as indicators of postpasteurization sanitation in plants making hard Italian-type cheese cannot be recommended.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Wisconsin–Madison, Department of Food Science, 1605 Linden Drive, Madison, Wisconsin 53706-1565, USA

Publication date: 2000-12-01

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