ABSTRACT

Escherichia coli O157:H7 (STEC) acid resistance may aid the pathogen's ability to cross the human gastric barrier, which makes it an organism of concern in acidic foods. Our objective was to determine how STEC acid resistance may correlate with survival during vegetable fermentations. Seven E. coli O157:H7 strains were screened to assess acid resistance in simulated stomach acid at pH 2. The strains were separated into two groups that differed in acid resistance (P < 0.05), with three being acid sensitive and four acid resistant. The growth rates of these strains were measured in a Luria broth at pH values from 4.2 to 6.8. Two strains having similar growth kinetics, B201 (acid sensitive) and B241 (acid resistant), were selected for further analysis. B201 was found to be missing (compared with B241) two glutamic acid decarboxylase regulatory genes required for acid resistance, gadE and gadX. These strains were challenged in lactic acid (100 mM) solutions, including cucumber juice (CJ) media at pH 3.3. As expected, B201 was more acid sensitive than B241, and a filtered fermented CJ was more inhibitory than similarly acidified CJ. In competitive growth studies with Lactobacillus plantarum LA445 in CJ, B201 or B241 grew from approximately 104 to 108 CFU/mL within 24 h, but the STEC strains were below the limit of detection by 48 h. In all fermentations, L. plantarum reached 108 CFU/mL by 48 h. However, in three of four independent fermentation experiments, strain B201 survived longer than B241. This was possibly due to buffering in B241-LA445 fermentation brines that had increased lactic acid for a given pH compared with B201-LA445. These data indicate that stationary-phase acid resistance may not accurately predict STEC survival during vegetable fermentations.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • E. coli STEC strains differed in acid sensitivity under different acid stresses.

  • An acid-sensitive STEC strain was found to lack gad regulatory genes.

  • Acid resistance of STEC did not correlate with fermentation brine survival.

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