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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2003 Aug;69(8):4697-705.

Rapid detection of meat spoilage by measuring volatile organic compounds by using proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry.

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  • 1Institute of Ion Physics. Institute of Microbiology, University of Innsbruck. Osterreichische Agentur für Gesundheit und Ernährungssicherheit, Lebensmitteluntersuchung Innsbruck, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.


The evolution of the microbial spoilage population for air- and vacuum-packaged meat (beef and pork) stored at 4 degrees C was investigated over 11 days. We monitored the viable counts (mesophilic total aerobic bacteria, Pseudomonas spp., Enterobacteriaceae, lactic acid bacteria, and Enterococcus spp.) by the microbiological standard technique and by measuring the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with the recently developed proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry system. Storage time, packaging type, and meat type had statistically significant (P < 0.05) effects on the development of the bacterial numbers. The concentrations of many of the measured VOCs, e.g., sulfur compounds, largely increased over the storage time. We also observed a large difference in the emissions between vacuum- and air-packaged meat. We found statistically significant strong correlations (up to 99%) between some of the VOCs and the bacterial contamination. The concentrations of these VOCs increased linearly with the bacterial numbers. This study is a first step toward replacing the time-consuming plate counting by fast headspace air measurements, where the bacterial spoilage can be determined within minutes instead of days.

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