Psychrotrophic bacteria have been recognized as a recurring problem in the refrigerated storage and distribution of fluid milk and cream and other perishable dairy products for several decades. Much emphasis has been focused on postpasteurization contaminants that are psychrotrophic, (e.g., Pseudomonas, Flavobacterium, and Alcaligenes spp.). Common sources of these gram-negative, non-sporeforming organisms are equipment surfaces and water supplies. Although these organisms are generally heat sensitive, many of their associated proteinases and lipases can withstand moderate to severe heat treatments and cause product deterioration. With the advance of improved control of postpasteurization contamination by nonheat-resistant psychrotrophs, more recent attention has been directed at psychrotrophic sporeformers and their potential impact on milk quality and shelf life properties. Heat-resistant psychrotrophs include members from the genera Clostridium, Arthrobacter, Microbacterium, Streptococcus, Corynebacterium, and Bacillus. However, the predominant microorganisms which comprise this category are Bacillus species. These bacteria can be introduced into milk supplies from water, udder and teat surfaces, or from soil and milkstone deposits on farm bulk tanks, pumps, pipelines, gaskets, and processing equipment. There is speculation that they can also be postpasteurization contaminants. When in the spore state, these microorganisms easily survive the typical range of pasteurization conditions with subsequent germination and outgrowth of vegetative cells. These organisms produce degradative enzymes (e.g., proteinases, lipases, and phospholipases) similar to those of non-sporeforming psychrotrophs. Enzymatic activity results in the development of objectionable flavor and quality defects in dairy products.

The unique combination of both heat-resistant and psychrotrophic properties with the same microorganism represents substantial potential for causing spoilage of perishable milk products. Recent trends of higher pasteurization temperatures and extended refrigerated storage time of both raw and pasteurized milk and cream products exacerbates the significance of this group of microorganisms for the dairy foods industry.

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Author notes

1Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85719

2Department of Food Science, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1.

3Scientific contribution No. 9624 of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station.