Fate of Escherichia coli O157:H7 during Composting of Bovine Manure in a Laboratory-Scale Bioreactor

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Inactivation profiles of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in inoculated bovine manure-based compost ingredients were determined by composting these ingredients in a bioreactor under controlled conditions. A 15-liter bioreactor was constructed to determine the fate of E. coli O157:H7 and changes in pH, moisture content, temperature, and aerobic mesophilic and thermophilic bacterial counts during composting. Fresh cow manure, wheat straw, cottonseed meal, and ammonium sulfate were combined to obtain a moisture content of ca. 60% and a carbon/nitrogen ratio of 29:1. The compost ingredients were held in the bioreactor at a constant external temperature of 21 or 50°C. Self-heating of the ingredients due to microbial activity occurred during composting, with stratified temperatures occurring within the bioreactor. At an external temperature of 21°C, self-heating occurred for 0 to 3 days, depending on the location within the bioreactor. E. coli O157:H7 populations increased by 1 to 2 log10 CFU/g during the initial 24 h of composting and decreased by ca. 3.5 log10 CFU/g near the bottom of the bioreactor and by ca. 2 log10 CFU/g near the middle and at the top during 36 days of composting. At an external temperature of 50°C, E. coli O157:H7 was inactivated rapidly (by ca. 4.9 log10 CFU/g at the top of the bioreactor, by 4.0 log10 CFU/g near the middle, and by 5.9 log10 CFU/g near the bottom) within 24 h of composting. When inoculated at an initial level of ca. 107 CFU/g, E. coli O157:H7 survived for 7 days but not for 14 days at all three sampling locations, as indicated by either direct plating or enrichment culture. At the top of the bioreactor a relatively constant moisture content of 60% was maintained, whereas the moisture content near the bottom decreased steadily to 37 to 45% over 14 days of composting. The pH of the composting mixture decreased to ca. 6 within 1 to 3 days and subsequently increased to 8 to 9. Results obtained in this study indicate that large populations (104 to 107 CFU/g) of E. coli O157:H7 survived for 36 days during composting in a bioreactor at an external temperature of 21°C but were inactivated to undetectable levels after 7 to 14 days when the external temperature of the bioreactor was 50°C. Hence, manure contaminated with large populations (e.g., 107 CFU/g) of E. coli O157:H7 should be composted for more than 1 week, and preferably for 2 weeks, when held at a minimum temperature of 50°C.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Center for Food Safety, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, Georgia 30223-1797, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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    First published in 1937, the Journal of Food Protection®, is a refereed monthly publication. Each issue contains scientific research and authoritative review articles reporting on a variety of topics in food science pertaining to food safety and quality. The Journal is internationally recognized as the leading publication in the field of food microbiology with a readership exceeding 11,000 scientists from 70 countries. The Journal of Food Protection® is indexed in Index Medicus, Current Contents, BIOSIS, PubMed, Medline, and many others.

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