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J Dairy Sci. 2014;97(1):240-6. doi: 10.3168/jds.2013-7028. Epub 2013 Nov 7.

Distribution and identification of culturable airborne microorganisms in a Swiss milk processing facility.

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University of Zurich, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland. Electronic address:
Hochdorf Nutritec AG, CH-8583 Hochdorf, Switzerland.
Mabritec AG, CH-4125 Riehen, Switzerland.
University of Zurich, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland.
University of Zurich, Vetsuisse Faculty, Institute for Food Safety and Hygiene, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland.


Airborne communities (mainly bacteria) were sampled and characterized (concentration levels and diversity) at 1 outdoor and 6 indoor sites within a Swiss dairy production facility. Air samples were collected on 2 sampling dates in different seasons, one in February and one in July 2012 using impaction bioaerosol samplers. After cultivation, isolates were identified by mass spectrometry (matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time-of-flight) and molecular (sequencing of 16S rRNA and rpoB genes) methods. In general, total airborne particle loads and total bacterial counts were higher in winter than in summer, but remained constant within each indoor sampling site at both sampling times (February and July). Bacterial numbers were generally very low (<100 cfu/m(3) of air) during the different steps of milk powder production. Elevated bacterial concentrations (with mean values of 391 ± 142 and 179 ± 33 cfu/m(3) of air during winter and summer sampling, respectively; n=15) occurred mainly in the "logistics area," where products in closed tins are packed in secondary packaging material and prepared for shipping. However, total bacterial counts at the outdoor site varied, with a 5- to 6-fold higher concentration observed in winter compared with summer. Twenty-five gram-positive and gram-negative genera were identified as part of the airborne microflora, with Bacillus and Staphylococcus being the most frequent genera identified. Overall, the culturable microflora community showed a composition typical and representative for the specific location. Bacterial counts were highly correlated with total airborne particles in the size range 1 to 5 µm, indicating that a simple surveillance system based upon counting of airborne particles could be implemented. The data generated in this study could be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the dairy plant's sanitation program and to identify potential sources of airborne contamination, resulting in increased food safety.


airborne particles; bioaerosol; milk powder; milk powder processing

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