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THE ROLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF MICROORGANISMS IN NATURE AND IN

FOODS

Microorganisms are trying to ruin our food sources by


infecting and destroying plants and animals, including man.
The primary role of microorganisms in nature is selfperpetuation. During this process, they carry out the
following general reaction:
All organic matter (carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, etc.)
Energy + Inorganic
compounds (nitrates, sulfates, etc.)
This, of course, is essential nothing more than the operation
of the nitrogen cycle and the cycle of other elements.

Microorganisms are capable of carrying out


many complex chemical reactions essential to
the perpetuation of these organisms. To do this,
they must obtain nutrients from organic matter,
some of which constitutes our food supply.

Untreated foods may be expected to contain varying numbers of


bacteria, molds, or yeasts and
the question often arises as to the safety of a given food product based upon
total microbial numbers.
The question should be twofold:
(1) What is the total of microorganisms present per g or ml?
(2) What types of organisms are associated with a particular food in its natural
state, and which of the organisms present are not normal for that particular
food. it is, therefore, of value to know the general distribution of bacteria in
nature and the general.

Bacteria. Twenty-five of the most important genera of bacteria


known to cause food spoilage and food poisoning are listed
below in alphabetical order:
Acetobacter
Achromobacter
Aerobacter
Alcaligenes
Bacillus
Bacteroides

Leuconostoc
Micrococcus
Paracolobactrum
Proteus
Pseudomonas
Salmonella

Clostridium
Corynebacterium
Erwinia
Escherichia
Flavobacterium
Kurthia
Lactobacillus

Sarcina
Serratia
Shigella
Staphylococcus
Streptococcus
Streptomyces

Molds. Sixteen of the most common genera of molds


associated with foods are as follows:
Altenaria
Aspergillus
Botrytis
Cephalosporium
Cladosporium
Flusarium
Geotrichum (Oospora)
Gleosporium

Helminthosporium
Monilia (Neurospora)
Mucor
Penicillium
Rhizopus
Sporotichum
Thamnidium
Trichothecum

Yeasts. Nine of the most common genera of yeasts


encountered in and on foods are as follows:
Brettanomyces
*Candida
Debaromyce
*Hansenula
Mycoderma

Rhodotorula
*Saccharomyces
Schizosaccharomyces
*Torulopsis (Torula)

PRIMARY SOURCES OF MICROORGANISMS TO FOODS


Soil and Water.
It may be assumed that at one time, all microorganisms existed in water. The
drying of surface soils gives rise to dust which, when disseminated by winds,
carries adhering microorganisms to many places including other areas of the
soil, rivers, oceans, etc.
It is not surprising, then, that soil and water microorganisms are often one and the
same.
The following genera of food-borne bacteria that are generally found in soils and
waters may be expected in foods:
Achromobacter, Aerobacter, Alcaligenes, Bacillus, Clostridium, Corynebacterium,
Micrococcus, Proteus, Pseudomonas, Serratia, Sarcina, and Streptomyces,
among others.

Fungus.
Among those that are nearly always present in soils are
Aspergillus,
Rhizopus,
Penicillium,
richothecium,
Botrytis,
Fusarium, and others.

Plants and Plant Products.


There are some bacteria that are associated more with the
plants than with soil. Among these genera are:
Acetobacter, Aerobacter, Erwinia, Flavobacterium,
Kurthia,Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Paracolobactrum,
and Streptococcus.
Among the molds, the most important plant-borne genera
are those that cause the spoilage of vegetables and
fruits.
The genus Saccharomyces is the most notable of the
yeasts that may be found on many plant products,
especially fruits. Rhodotorula and Torula.

Food Utensils.
The genera of microorganisms to be found on food utensils
depend upon the types of foods handled, the care of
these utensils, their storage, and other factors.
If vegetables are handled in a given set of utensils, one
would, of course, expect to find some or all of the
organisms associated with vegetables.
When utensils are cleaned with hot or boiling water, the
remaining flora would normally be those best able to
withstand the killing effects of this treatment.
Utensils that are stored in the open where dust might collect
should be expected to have air-borne bacteria, yeasts,
and molds.

Intestinal Tract of Man and Animals.


Among these are: Bacteroides, Escherichia, Proteus,
Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus.
The most notable of these is the genus Escherichia, which
has as its natural habitat the intestinal tract of man and
other mammals.
Other genera common to the intestinal tract include
Clostridium, Paracolobactrum, and Pseudomonas. From
the intestinal tracts of animals, intestinal microorganisms
find their way directly to the soil and water.
And from the soil they may find their way onto plants, in dust,
to utensils, etc. Molds are not thought to be transmitted by
fecal sources though the yeast genus Candida is very often
found in the intestinal tract of man.

Food Handlers.
The micro-flora on the hands and other garments of food handlers generally
reflects the environment and habits of the individuals.
In addition, there are several genera of bacteria that are specifically associated
with the hands, nasal cavities, and mouth.
Among these are the genera Gaffkya, Sarcina and Staphylococcus, the most
notable which are the staphylococci which are found on hands, arms, in nasal
cavities, the mouth, and other parts of the body.
While the genera Salmonella and Shigella are basically intestinal forms, they may
be deposited onto foods and utensils by food handlers if sanitary practices are not
allowed by each individual.
Number of molds and yeasts may be found on the hands and garments of food
handlers depending upon the immediate individual.

Animal Feeds.
Any one or all of the genera of bacteria, yeasts, and molds cited earlier in this
chapter may be found in animal feeds.
Animal feeds are of great importance in the spread of food poisoning
Salmonella. Organisms from this source have been shown to be rapidly
disseminated throughout processing plants where feeds are handled.

Animal Hides.
Just about any or all of the microorganisms associated with soils, water, animal
feeds, dust, and fecal matter
may be found on the hides of animals. From animal hides, these organisms
may be again deposited in the air, onto the hands of workers, and directly
into foods.
Some members of the hide flora find their way into the lymphatic system of
slaughter animals from which they migrate after slaughter into muscle
tissue proper.

Air and Dust.


The types of organisms to be found in air and dust, with the exception of some
of the pathogens, include the 25 genera of bacteria,
the 16 genera of molds, and many of the yeasts.
Although Staphylococcus and Salmonella spp. may at times be found in air and
dust, this is not the usual source of these organisms to foods.
Notable among the bacterial genera in air and dust are Bacillus, Sarcina, and
Micrococcus spp., all of which are able to endure dryness to varying
degrees.
Notable among the yeasts is the genus Torulopsis, and many mold genera may
be found from time to time.

The Primary Sources of Food-Poisoning Bacteria to


Foods.
The most important food-poisoning bacteria belong to the following genera:
Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Streptococcus, and Clostridium.
The staphylococci are associated with the nasal cavities of man and animals
as well as with other parts of the body.
Salmonellae are indigenous to the intestinal tract of man and animals but may
enter foods from other sources contaminated from fecal matter.
The streptococci exist both in man and animals as well as on plants,

while the clostridia are basically soil and water forms. The food-poisoning
syndromes caused by certain strains of these organisms are discussed in
Chapters 14, 15, and 16. Other biological hazards associated with the
consumption of foods are presented in Chapter 17.

SYNOPSIS OF THE 25 GENERA OF COMMON FOODBORNE BACTERIA


Acetobacter.
This genus belongs to the family Pseudomonadaceae and contains 7 species.
These are gram negative, rod-shaped cells that are strict aerobes.
They are commonly found in fermented grain mash, mother of vinegar, beer, wines,
and souring fruits and vegetables. Some species such as A. aceti oxidize
ethanol to acetic acid and thereby give rise to vinegar, perhaps their greatest
industrial use.
Achromobacter.
These are short, gram negative, nonpigment-forming rods.
Many ferment glucose and other sugars but produce no gas. They play important
roles in the low temperature spoilage of meats, poultry, and seafoods.
This group is considered the second most important in the cause of lowtemperature meat spoilage.

Bacillus.
Most are aerobic, gram positive rods that produce endospores.
Most are mesophiles with some being psychrophilic and some thermophilic in
nature.
The thermophilic members are of great importance in the canning industry due to
the extreme heat resistance of their spores. This genus contains one pathogen
for man and other vertebrates
B. anthracis, which causes anthrax. Some species are insect pathogens. They
are important in the spoilage of many foods held above refrigerator
temperatures.

Bacteroides.
This group of anaerobes belongs to the family Bacteroidaceae. Gram negative,
mesophilic, nonsporing rods.
They find their way to meats where they play a role in spoilage.

Clostridium.
This is an important group of anaerobic bacteria. They are gram positive,
sporeforming rods that are anaerobic.
The genus contains some thermophilic species which are of great importance in
the canning industry due to the extreme heat resistance of their endospores.

Botulism are members of this genus. They are very widely distributed in nature,
in soils, water, the intestinal tract of man and animals, and other places.

They may be found in many foods where they may or may not grow.