• C. sakazakii;
  • growth kinetics;
  • modeling;
  • powdered infant formula;
  • predictive microbiology

Abstract:  Cronobacter sakazakii is a life-threatening bacterium, infrequently implicated in illnesses associated with the consumption of powdered infant formula (PIF). It can cause rare but invasive infections in neonatal infants who consume contaminated PIF. The objective of this research was to investigate the growth kinetics and develop mathematical models to predict the growth of heat-injured C. sakazakii in reconstituted PIF (RPIF). RPIF, inoculated with a 6-strain cocktail of non-heat-treated (uninjured) or heat-injured C. sakazakii, was incubated at different temperatures to develop growth models. Except for storage at 6 °C, C. sakazakii grew well at all test temperatures (10 to 48 °C). Uninjured C. sakazakii exhibited no observable lag phase, while a lag phase was apparent in heat-treated cells. A simple 3-parameter logistic equation was used to fit growth curves for non-heat-treated cells, while both Baranyi and Huang models were suitable for heat-treated C. sakazakii. Calculated minimum and maximum growth temperatures were 6.5 and 51.4 °C for non-heat-treated cells, and 6.9 and 50.1 °C for heat-treated cells of C. sakazakii in RPIF, respectively. There was no significant difference between growth rates of non-heat-treated and heat-injured cells in RPIF. For heat-treated cells of C. sakazakii, the lag phase was temperature-dependent and very short (between 25 °C and 48 °C). These results suggest that both non-heat-treated and heat-injured C. sakazakii cells may present a risk to infants if the pathogens are not completely destroyed by heat in RPIF and then exposed to subsequent temperature abuse.

Practical Application:  C. sakazakii is a life-threatening bacterium found in powdered infant formula (PIF). This study shows that the uninjured bacterium exhibits very short or no lag phase if not refrigerated and can grow well in reconstituted PIF (RPIF), while the heat-injured cells can multiply at an equivalent rate following metabolic recovery. Temperature abuse may allow C. sakazakii to grow and endanger infants fed with RPIF. Predictive models developed in this study can be used to estimate the growth and conduct risk assessments of this pathogen.