Research – Thermal inactivation of Salmonella enterica and nonpathogenic bacterial surrogates in wheat flour by baking in a household oven 

Journal of Food Protection

Wheat flour has been implicated in recalls and outbreaks linked to Salmonella and pathogenic Escherichia coli. An instructional online video posted on a popular YouTube channel with over 20 million subscribers claimed that safe raw cookie dough could be made from flour baked in a household oven at 177°C (350°F) for 5 min but no evidence in support of that claim was provided. This study was conducted to assess thermal inactivation of two Salmonella strains, as well as Enterobacter aerogenes and Pantoea dispersa in wheat flour during home oven style baking. Wheat flour was inoculated with Salmonella Enteritidis PT 30, Salmonella Typhimurium PT 42 or their potential surrogates at high concentrations (4.8-6.1 log CFU/g) before baking in consumer-style convection oven (toaster oven) at 149, 177, and 204°C (300, 350, or 400°F) for up to 7 min. Flour was heated in aluminum tray with a maximum depth of ~2 cm. Heated wheat flour samples (5 g each) were enumerated in triplicate, and microbial concentration was expressed in log CFU/g. Thermal profiles of the geometric center of the wheat flour pile and air in the oven during the baking were recorded. Water activity of wheat flour samples was also measured before and after baking. Water activity of wheat flour decreased as baking temperature and time increased. Water activity values ranged from 0.30 to 0.06 after 7 min as oven temperature increased from 149 to 204°C. Thermal inactivation kinetics were linear until counts approached the limit of detection for all microorganisms. D-values for Salmonella and potential surrogate strains ranged from 1.86 to 2.13 min at 149°C air temperature, 1.66 to 1.92 min at 177°C air temperature, and 1.12 to 1.38 min at 204°C air temperature. Both Salmonella strains and surrogates showed similar inactivation patterns. Baking of wheat flour in household toaster ovens has potential as an inactivation treatment of pathogenic bacteria in consumer homes, despite its low water activity.

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