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Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2010 Apr;7(4):339-50. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2009.0379.

Cronobacter (Enterobacter sakazakii): an opportunistic foodborne pathogen.

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Centres for Food Safety and Foodborne Zoonomics, School of Agriculture, Food Science, and Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland.


Cronobacter spp. (Enterobacter sakazakii) are a recently described genus that is comprised of six genomospecies. The classification of these organisms was revised based on a detailed polyphasic taxonomic study. Cronobacter spp. are regarded as ubiquitous organisms having been isolated from a wide variety of foods. These bacteria are opportunistic pathogens and are linked with life-threatening infections in neonates. Clinical symptoms of Cronobacter infection include necrotizing enterocolitis, bacteremia, and meningitis, with case fatality rates of 50-80% being reported. Contaminated powdered infant formula has been epidemiologically linked with infections. Recently, infections among immunocompromised adults, mainly the elderly, have also been reported. A high tolerance to osmotic stress and elevated temperatures contribute to the survival of Cronobacter spp. in dried foods such as powdered infant formula. Controlling the organism in the production environment, thereby reducing dissemination, necessitates the provision of suitable diagnostic tools. Studies demonstrated that a high degree of variability exists amongst the phenotypic-based methods used to identify Cronobacter spp. However, advances in molecular detection and subtyping techniques have significantly improved the identification and characterization of Cronobacter spp. The dose required to induce infection has yet to be determined. In vitro virulence studies have shown that Cronobacter spp. may survive in macrophage cells and efficiently attach to and invade epithelial cell lines. The production of exopolysaccharide may contribute to the formation of biofilm and active efflux pumps promote resistance to antimicrobial agents such as bile salts and disinfectants. A holistic approach combining techniques such as comparative genome analysis, proteomics, and in vivo challenges could help unravel the complex interactions between this pathogen and its host. These data would help identify those properties in Cronobacter spp. which enable the bacterium to survive in the production environment and infect vulnerable neonates via the food chain.

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