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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 Oct;76(19):6607-14. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01007-10. Epub 2010 Aug 13.

Development and application of a new method for specific and sensitive enumeration of spores of nonproteolytic Clostridium botulinum types B, E, and F in foods and food materials.

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Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, United Kingdom.


The highly potent botulinum neurotoxins are responsible for botulism, a severe neuroparalytic disease. Strains of nonproteolytic Clostridium botulinum form neurotoxins of types B, E, and F and are the main hazard associated with minimally heated refrigerated foods. Recent developments in quantitative microbiological risk assessment (QMRA) and food safety objectives (FSO) have made food safety more quantitative and include, as inputs, probability distributions for the contamination of food materials and foods. A new method that combines a selective enrichment culture with multiplex PCR has been developed and validated to enumerate specifically the spores of nonproteolytic C. botulinum. Key features of this new method include the following: (i) it is specific for nonproteolytic C. botulinum (and does not detect proteolytic C. botulinum), (ii) the detection limit has been determined for each food tested (using carefully structured control samples), and (iii) a low detection limit has been achieved by the use of selective enrichment and large test samples. The method has been used to enumerate spores of nonproteolytic C. botulinum in 637 samples of 19 food materials included in pasta-based minimally heated refrigerated foods and in 7 complete foods. A total of 32 samples (5 egg pastas and 27 scallops) contained spores of nonproteolytic C. botulinum type B or F. The majority of samples contained <100 spores/kg, but one sample of scallops contained 444 spores/kg. Nonproteolytic C. botulinum type E was not detected. Importantly, for QMRA and FSO, the construction of probability distributions will enable the frequency of packs containing particular levels of contamination to be determined.

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