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Int J Food Microbiol. 2005 Apr 15;100(1-3):41-53. Epub 2004 Nov 23.

Modelling the individual cell lag phase: effect of temperature and pH on the individual cell lag distribution of Listeria monocytogenes.

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Laboratory of Food Microbiology and Food Preservation, Department of Food Technology and Nutrition, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.


The individual-based approach of the lag phase is gaining interest, especially for pathogens that initially contaminate food products in low amounts. In this paper, the effect of temperature (30, 10, 7, 4 and 2 degrees C) and pH (7.4, 6.1, 5.5, 5.0, 4.7 and 4.4) on the individual cell lag phase of Listeria monocytogenes was examined in a factorial design, using OD measurements. Individual lag phases of about 100 individual cells per condition were examined and calculated using a linear extrapolation method. Generation times were calculated out of the slope. The obtained data were analyzed at three different levels: in a first approach, the mean values were calculated for each set of environmental conditions and compared to predictions made by the USDA's Pathogen Modeling Program (PMP) for analogous growth conditions. The PMP predictions of the generation times were in the same order of magnitude as the obtained data, although a persistent underestimation could be observed. The observed individual cell lag data differed from lag phase predictions by PMP. Possible reasons for this discrepancy are discussed. Secondly, histograms of individual lag phase measurements were constructed for the different temperature-pH combinations. In this way, the influence of both factors on the variability of individual lag phases could be estimated. At low stress levels, most individual cells showed a short lag phase resulting in a compression of the histograms at the zero-lag level, while, at high stress levels, the histograms shifted to longer lag phases with a significant increase in variability. Thirdly, 37 different distribution types were fitted to the datasets to reveal the distributions that fitted best the obtained data. The gamma distribution was preferred at moderate stress levels, while the Weibull distribution was chosen for harsher growth conditions.

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