Cronobacter spp. are opportunistic human pathogens that cause serious diseases in neonates and immunocompromised people. Owing to their biofilm formation on various surfaces, both their detection and their removal from production plants constitute a major challenge. In this study, food samples were randomly collected in Austria and examined for the presence of Cronobacter spp. Presumptive isolates were identified by a polyphasic approach. Five percent of the samples were positive for C. sakazakii and 2.4% for C. dublinensis. Individual growth of the isolates was characterized based on lag time, growth rate, and generation time. During an incubation period of 6 to 72 h, biofilm formation of 11 selected isolates was quantified under model conditions by a crystal violet staining assay with 96-well plates with different carbon sources (lactose, glucose, maltose, sucrose, and sodium acetate) and NaCl levels and under variable temperature and pH conditions. Biofilm formation was more pronounced at lactose concentrations between 0.25 and 3% compared with 5% lactose, which lead to thinner layers. C. sakazakii isolate C7, isolated from infant milk powder, was the strongest biofilm producer at 10 mM Mg2+ and 5 mM Mn2+, 0.5% sodium acetate, at pH levels between 7 and 9 at 37°C for 24 h. C. sakazakii strain C6 isolated from a plant air filter was identified as a moderate biofilm former and C. sakazakii strain DSM 4485, a clinical isolate, as a weak biofilm former. Based on PCR detection, genes bcsA, bcsB, and bcsG encoding for cellulose could be identified as markers for biofilm formation. Isolates carrying bcsA and bcsB showed significantly stronger biofilm formation than isolates without these genes (P < 0.05), in strong correlation with the results obtained in the crystal violet assay. Further investigations using confocal laser scanning microscopy revealed that extracellular polymeric substances and glycocalyx secretions were the dominating components of the biofilms and that the viable fraction of bacteria in the biofilm decreased over time.

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