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Fate of Staphylococcus aureus on Vacuum-Packaged Ready-to-Eat Meat Products Stored at 21°C

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established standards for the composition and shelf stability of various ready-to-eat meat products. These standards may include product pH, moisture:protein ratio, and water activity (aw) values. It is unclear how closely these standards are based on the potential for pathogen growth or toxin production. Because the vacuum packaging used on most ready-to-eat meat products inhibits mold, Staphylococcus aureus is the pathogen most likely to grow on products with reduced aw and increased percentage of water-phase salt. In this study, 34 samples of various ready-to-eat meat products were inoculated with a three-strain mixture of S. aureus, vacuum packaged, and stored at 21°C for 4 weeks. S. aureus numbers decreased by 1.1 to 5.6 log CFU on fermented products (pH ≤ 5.1) with a wide range of salt concentrations and moisture content. Similarly, S. aureus numbers decreased by 3.2 to 4.5 log CFU on dried nonacidified jerky (aw ≤ 0.82; moisture:protein ratio of ≤0.8). Products that were not fermented or dried clearly supported S. aureus growth and cannot be considered shelf stable. The product pH and moisture:protein ratio were the two compositional factors most highly correlated (R 2 = 0.84) with S. aureus survival and growth for the types of products tested, but pH and aw or pH and percentage of water-phase salt also may provide useful predictive guidance (R 2 = 0.81 and 0.77, respectively).

Document Type: Short Communication

Affiliations: 1: Department of Food Science, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA 2: Department of Animal Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA 3: Department of Statistics, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2005

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