Aims: To investigate the presence and numbers of Bacillus spp. spores in surface waters and examine isolates belonging to the B. cereus and B. subtilis groups for cytotoxicity, and to discuss the presence of cytotoxic Bacillus spp. in surface water as hazard identification in a risk assessment approach in the food industry.
Methods and Results: Samples from eight different rivers with variable degree of faecal pollution, and two drinking water sources, were heat shocked and examined for the presence of Bacillus spp. spores using membrane filtration followed by cultivation on bovine blood agar plates. Bacillus spp. was present in all samples. The numbers varied from 15 to 1400 CFU 100 ml−1. Pure cultures of 86 Bacillus spp. isolates representing all sampling sites were characterized using colony morphology, atmospheric requirements, spore and sporangium morphology, and API 50 CHB and API 20E. Bacillus spp. representing the B. cereus and B. subtilis groups were isolated from all samples. Twenty-one isolates belonging to the B. cereus and B. subtilis groups, representing eight samples, were screened for cytotoxicity. Nine strains of B. cereus and five strains belonging to the B. subtilis group were cytotoxic.
Conclusions: The presence of cytotoxic Bacillus spp. in surface water represents a possible source for food contamination. Filtration and chlorination of surface water, the most common drinking water treatment in Norway, do not remove Bacillus spores efficiently. This was confirmed by isolation of spores from tap water samples.
Significance and Impact of the Study: Contamination of food with water containing low numbers of Bacillus spores implies a risk for bacterial growth in foods. Consequently, high numbers of Bacillus spp. may occur after growth in some products. High numbers of cytotoxic Bacillus spp. in foods may represent a risk for food poisoning.