Previous short-duration depuration studies with the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) demonstrated difficulty in achieving significant naturally incurred Vibrio vulnificus population count reductions. The present study used long-duration depuration (14 days) at controlled temperatures (10 or 22°C) and salinities (12, 16, or 20 mg/g). All depuration temperature–salinity combinations significantly reduced V. vulnificus counts, with greatest reductions seen in 12 mg/g, 10°C seawater (2.7-log CFU/g reduction) and in 20 mg/g, 22°C seawater (2.8-log reduction). Mesophilic vibrios dominated the overall microflora of freshly harvested oysters, whereas refrigerated storage selected for psychrotrophic bacteria (Pseudomonas spp., Aeromonas spp., Shewanella spp., Psychrobacter spp.) as well as did depuration at 10°C (Pseudoalteromonas spp., Shewanella spp., Vibrio spp.). Depuration at 22°C retained dominance of mesophilic vibrios, including pathogenic species, followed by Shewanella spp., Pseudoalteromonas spp., and Photobacterium spp. Although aerobic plate counts were lower in 22°C depurated oysters (5.0 log versus 6.0 log) compared with 10°C, depuration at 10°C offered greater V. vulnificus population reductions than depuration at 22°C. This advantage was only seen at 12 mg/g salinity, with no impact at 16 and 20 mg/g salinities. No depuration treatment reduced V. vulnificus counts to nondetectable levels. Use of prolonged depuration may be a helpful intervention to control V. vulnificus populations in oysters.
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