Modified-atmosphere packaged (MAP) foods have become increasingly more common in North America, as food manufacturers have attempted to meet consumer demands for fresh, refrigerated foods with extended shelf life. Although much information exists in the general area of MAP technology, research on the microbiological safety of these foods is still lacking. The great vulnerability of MAP foods from a safety standpoint is that with many modified atmospheres containing moderate to high levels of carbon dioxide, the aerobic spoilage organisms which usually warn consumers of spoilage are inhibited, while the growth of pathogens may be allowed or even stimulated. In the past, the major concerns have been the anaerobic pathogens, especially the psychrotrophic, nonproteolytic clostridia. However, because of the emergence of psychrotrophic pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, Aeromonas hydrophila, and Yersinia enterocolitica, new safety issues have been raised. This stems mainly from the fact that the extended shelf life of many MAP products may allow extra time for these pathogens to reach dangerously high levels in a food. This review focuses on the effects of MAP on the growth and survival of foodborne pathogens. Considered are the major psychrotrophic pathogens, the mesophiles such as the salmonellae and staphylococci, as well as the microaerophilic Campylobacter jejuni. The use of MAP in various food commodities such as beef, chicken, fish, and sandwiches is also discussed. Examples of various foods currently being packaged under MAP in North America are given, along with the specific atmospheres employed for the various food groups. Major safety concerns that still need to be addressed include the potential for growth and toxin production of Clostridium botulinum type E in MAP fish products, the growth of L. monocytogenes and A. hydrophila under modified atmospheres in various food commodities, and the enhanced survival of anaerobic spores and C. jejuni under certain gas atmospheres. Additional research with MAP foods is needed to ensure the microbiological safety of the numerous MAP products that will be available to the consumer in the next decade and beyond.
1Based on a paper presented at a workshop on “Modified Atmosphere Packaging Technology”, Technical University of Nova Scotia, Halifax, N.S., November 14–15, 1989.