A simple well-plate technique was utilized to determine the effect of various metals on the growth of microorganisms in media containing different polyphosphates. Aspergillus flavus and four gram-positive bacteria were completely inhibited by media containing 1% of various alkaline polyphosphates, whereas four gram-negative bacteria were not. Significant differences were observed between the type of polyphosphate added, the type of metal added, and the species of gram-positive bacterium inhibited. The addition of Mg2+ stimulated growth of A. flavus and Bacillus cereus in the presence of tetrasodium pyrophosphate, whereas Mn2+ permitted growth of A. flavus and Staphylococcus aureus in the presence of sodium hexametaphosphate. Iron supplementation allowed the growth of S. aureus and Listeria monocytogenes on media containing 1 % tetrasodium pyrophosphate. A method for determining the amount of calcium and magnesium in water was modified to detect free Mg2+ by replacing EDTA with phosphate. The addition of free Mg2+, but not Mg2+ chelated by tetrasodium pyrophosphate, permitted the growth of B. cereus on a medium containing tetrasodium pyrophosphate. It is speculated that polyphosphates specifically inhibited A. flavus and gram-positive bacteria by removing essential metals from cation-binding sites located within their cell walls.

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Author notes

Journal Paper No. J-13638 of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, Ames, Iowa. Project No, 2365.

*Present Address: Department of Food Science, 106 Borland Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802.