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Comparison of Media and Sampling Locations for Isolation of Listeria monocytogenes in Queso Fresco Cheese

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Listeriosis associated with Hispanic-style soft cheese is an ongoing public health concern. Although rapid detection methods based on molecular and immunological technologies have been applied successfully for detecting Listeria monocytogenes in foods, obtaining isolates of the pathogen is a critical procedure for epidemiologic studies and regulatory analysis. Oxford agar, a medium recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Bacteriological Analytical Manual (BAM) to isolate L. monocytogenes from cheese, is unable to differentiate L. monocytogenes from other Listeria species. Hence, two selective isolation media, L. monocytogenes blood agar (LMBA) and Rapid 'L. mono agar (RLMA), were compared with Oxford agar for isolating L. monocytogenes from cheese. Queso fresco cheese was inoculated at 100 or 101 CFU/g with a five-strain mixture of L. monocytogenes or with the five-strain L. monocytogenes mixture and Listeria innocua. Cheese samples were stored at 21, 12, and 4°C and Listeria counts were determined at 3, 7, and 10 days; 7, 10, 14, 21 days; and 2, 4, 8, and 12 weeks postinoculation, respectively. Surface and interior cheese samples as well as liquid exudate produced during storage were assayed individually to determine differences in Listeria contamination at different sampling locations. L. monocytogenes was more easily differentiated from L. innocua on RLMA than LMBA and Oxford agar. Similar L. monocytogenes counts (ca. 104 CFU/g) were obtained on the last sampling day on the surface and interior of cheese samples (P > 0.05) for all storage temperatures and both initial inoculation levels, but smaller cell numbers were detected in the exudate produced during storage. In addition, simultaneous inoculation of L. innocua with L. monocytogenes did not affect the final L. monocytogenes counts in the cheese. The amount of exudate released from the cheese and decrease of pH correlated with storage temperature. More exudate was produced and a greater decrease of pH occurred at 21°C than at 12 or 4°C. Our results indicate that RLMA is a suitable medium for isolating L. monocytogenes from queso fresco cheese. Higher counts of L. monocytogenes were obtained from surface and interior samples of cheese than from the exudate of the cheese during storage. In addition, pH may be a useful indicator of improperly stored queso fresco cheese.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Center for Food Safety, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, Georgia 30223-1797, USA 2: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30333, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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