Cronobacter sakazakii (C. sakazakii) is an opportunistic, neonatal, and food borne pathogen primarily associated with the contamination of powdered infant formula (PIF). The pathogen is reported to overcome the food safety barriers such as increased acidity, heat treatment, and so on. This study evaluates the thermal tolerance of C. sakazakii strains independently at 52, 55, and 58°C in reconstituted PIF after exposure to physiological stresses: refrigeration (4°C for 24 hr), starvation (37°C for 48 hr), and desiccation (25°C for 4 days). The Log10 CFU/ml and D‐values indicated that survival rate of all the strains decreased significantly (p < .05) after desiccation as compared to those of the control condition (without stress exposure). However, cold stress increased the thermal tolerance of all strains at all temperatures (52, 55, and 58°C) as indicated by increased D‐values. Among the tested strains, C. sakazakii strain N15 was found to be the most resistant to thermal treatment after each stress exposure as depicted by principal component analysis (PCA). No apparent correlation between thermal tolerance and starvation stress was observed. The findings indicate that prior exposure to stress conditions may induce cross protection to thermal treatment in C. sakazakii.
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