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J Food Prot. 2015 Mar;78(3):590-6. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-14-380.

Spore prevalence and toxigenicity of Bacillus cereus and Bacillus thuringiensis isolates from U.S. retail spices.

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Department of Food Science, University of Massachusetts, 100 Holdsworth Way, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA.
Department of Food Science, University of Massachusetts, 100 Holdsworth Way, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA.


Recent incidents of foodborne illness associated with spices as the vehicle of transmission prompted this examination of U.S. retail spices with regard to Bacillus cereus. This study focused on the levels of aerobic-mesophilic spore-forming bacteria and B cereus spores associated with 247 retail spices purchased from five states in the United States. Samples contained a wide range of aerobic-mesophilic bacterial spore counts (< 200 to 8.3 × 10(7) CFU/g), with 19.1% of samples at levels above 10(5) CFU/g. For examples, paprika, allspice, peppercorns, and mixed spices had high levels of aerobic spores (> 10(7) CFU/g). Using a novel chromogenic agar, B. cereus and B. thuringiensis spores were isolated from 77 (31%) and 11 (4%) samples, respectively. Levels of B. cereus were <3 to 1,600 MPN/g. Eighty-eight percent of B. cereus isolates and 91% of B. thuringiensis isolates possessed at least one type of enterotoxin gene: HBL (hemolysin BL) or nonhemolytic enterotoxin (NHE). None of the 88 isolates obtained in this study possessed the emetic toxin gene (ces). Using commercially available immunological toxin detection kits, the toxigenicity of the isolates was confirmed. The NHE enterotoxin was expressed in 98% of B. cereus and 91% of B. thuringiensis isolates that possessed the responsible gene. HBL enterotoxin was detected in 87% of B. cereus and 100% of B. thuringiensis PCR-positive isolates. Fifty-two percent of B. cereus and 54% of B. thuringiensis isolates produced both enterotoxins. Ninety-seven percent of B. cereus isolates grew at 12°C, although only two isolates grew well at 9°C. The ability of these spice isolates to form spores, produce diarrheal toxins, and grow at moderately abusive temperatures makes retail spices an important potential vehicle for foodborne illness caused by B. cereus strains, in particular those that produce diarrheal toxins.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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