The antilisterial effects of a sorbate-nisin combination were assessed in vitro and on beef at refrigeration temperature. Three hemolytic pathogenic strains of Listeria monocytogenes, reference strain NCTC 7973, food strain L70, and clinical strain L94, were stored at 4°C in phosphate-buffered saline, pH 5.5, containing a combination of sorbate (0.2% wt/vol) and nisin (40 IU/ml). After 4 weeks, hemolysin production by the strains had ceased, their subsequent lag phases at 37°C were extended from an initial 1.23 to 1.32 h to a final 7.13 to 8.06 h and their pathogenicity for chick embryos had decreased from an initial 93.3 to 95.5% to a final 43.3 to 60.0%. Sterile beef steaks of normal pH (5.4 to 5.5) were inoculated with a cocktail of the three strains at approximately 5 log CFU/cm2 and the surface of half the steaks was treated with the antimicrobial solution 1.0% sorbate plus 1,000 IU of nisin per ml. The meat was packaged under vacuum or 100% carbon dioxide and stored at 4°C for 4 weeks. On untreated meat, L. monocytogenes grew by 1.79 log cycles in vacuum packages, but in CO2 packages the initial population decreased by 0.54 log cycle. On treated vacuum-packaged meat, L. monocytogenes decreased during storage to the extent that 96.5% of the initial pathogen load was eliminated, but the lag phase of the remaining cells at 37°C was unaffected. On treated CO2-packaged meat L. monocytogenes decreased during storage to the extent that 89.3% of the initial pathogen load was eliminated, and for surviving cells the lag phase at 37°C was extended. Treatment with the sorbate-nisin combination did not significantly affect pathogenicity of the L. monocytogenes cocktail recovered from vacuum- or carbon dioxide-packages after storage, in contrast to the in vitro study, where pathogenicity was clearly attenuated. The reason for this difference is unknown.

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