Bacillus cereus is a foodborne pathogen that often persists on food processing surfaces due the formation of spores and biofilms. Spores of 12 selected B. cereus strains from genotypes that recurred in a pasteurized milk processing line were investigated in this study, for their surface and biofilm characteristics. The main objective was to have an insight into their persistence strategies. Spore surface hydrophobicity and acid-base properties, were assessed using the microbial adhesion to solvents (MATS) method. To determine how hydrophobicity was affected by cleaning procedures, this property was measured when spores were submitted to alkali or acidic stresses mimicking those of cleaning-in-place (CIP) procedures. Biofilms formation on stainless steel coupons by pH-treated spores was investigated in three culture media and imaged by using environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM). Results showed that spores were either hydrophilic or moderately hydrophobic. Alkali-stress reduced spore surface hydrophobicity, whereas acidic shock increased it. More limited hydrophobicity changes following alkaline stress suggest alkali adaptation of spores. In addition, spores submitted to pH-stresses produced specific biofilm features on stainless steel as shown by ESEM imaging. Alkali tolerance and the biofilm lifestyle are strategies that permit B. cereus recurrent genotypes to persist in the milk processing line. Overall, this study gives an insight into hydrophobicity and specific biofilm features of B. cereus spores submitted to chemical cleaning.
Key words: Bacillus cereus, biofilms, spores, hydrophobicity, CIP-like stress, dairy industry, environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM).
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