ABSTRACT

High-moisture, low-acid cheeses have been shown to support Listeria monocytogenes growth during refrigerated storage. Prior studies suggest that organic acids vary in their antilisterial activity and that cheeses of lower pH delay growth longer than those of higher pH; however, no standard pH value for Listeria control in cheese exists. The objective of this research was to create a predictive model to include the effects of acid type, pH, and moisture on the growth of L. monocytogenes in a model cheese system. Cream, micellar casein, water, lactose, salt, and acid (citric, lactic, acetic, or propionic) were combined in 32 formulations targeting 4 pH values (5.25, 5.50, 5.75, and 6.00) and two moisture levels (50 and 56%). Each was inoculated with 3 log CFU/g L. monocytogenes (five-strain mixture) after which 25-g samples were vacuum sealed and stored 8 weeks at 4°C. Triplicate samples were enumerated on modified Oxford agar weekly in duplicate trials. Model cheeses formulated with acetic and propionic acids inhibited growth (i.e., no observed increase in L. monocytogenes populations over 8 weeks) at pH ≤5.75, while those formulated with lactic acid inhibited growth at pH 5.25 only. In contrast, all model cheeses formulated with citric acid supported growth. Resulting growth curves were fitted for lag phase and growth rate before constructing models for each. The pH and acid type were found to significantly affect both growth parameters (P < 0.05), while moisture (50 to 56%) was not statistically significant in either model (P ≥ 0.05). The effects of acetic and propionic acid were not significantly different. In contrast, model cheeses made with citric acid had significantly shorter lag phases than the other acids tested, but growth rates after lag were statistically similar to model cheeses made with lactic acid. These data suggest propionic ∼ acetic > lactic > citric acids in antilisterial activity within the model cheese system developed and can be used in formulating safe high-moisture cheeses.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • The pH and organic acid significantly affect L. monocytogenes growth in model cheese.

  • Moisture (50 to 56%) did not significantly affect L. monocytogenes growth.

  • Data suggest propionic ∼ acetic > lactic > citric acid in antilisterial activity in model cheese.

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