Frontiers in Microbiology (Jun 2022)

Microbial Antagonism in Food-Enrichment Culture: Inhibition of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli and Shigella Species

  • Tanis C. McMahon,
  • Tanis C. McMahon,
  • Cesar Bin Kingombe,
  • Amit Mathews,
  • Karine Seyer,
  • Alex Wong,
  • Burton W. Blais,
  • Catherine D. Carrillo

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 13


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Bacterial pathogens, such as Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Shigella spp., are important causes of foodborne illness internationally. Recovery of these organisms from foods is critical for food safety investigations to support attribution of illnesses to specific food commodities; however, isolation of bacterial cultures can be challenging. Methods for the isolation of STEC and Shigella spp. from foods typically require enrichment to amplify target organisms to detectable levels. Yet, during enrichment, target organisms can be outcompeted by other bacteria in food matrices due to faster growth rates, or through production of antimicrobial agents such as bacteriocins or bacteriophages. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the occurrence of Shigella and STEC inhibitors produced by food microbiota. The production of antimicrobial compounds in cell-free extracts from 200 bacterial strains and 332 food-enrichment broths was assessed. Cell-free extracts produced by 23 (11.5%) of the strains tested inhibited growth of at least one of the five Shigella and seven STEC indicator strains used in this study. Of the 332 enrichment broths tested, cell-free extracts from 25 (7.5%) samples inhibited growth of at least one of the indicator strains tested. Inhibition was most commonly associated with E. coli recovered from meat products. Most of the inhibiting compounds were determined to be proteinaceous (34 of the 48 positive samples, 71%; including 17 strains, 17 foods) based on inactivation by proteolytic enzymes, indicating presence of bacteriocins. The cell-free extracts from 13 samples (27%, eight strains, five foods) were determined to contain bacteriophages based on the observation of plaques in diluted extracts and/or resistance to proteolytic enzymes. These results indicate that the production of inhibitors by food microbiota may be an important challenge for the recovery of foodborne pathogens, particularly for Shigella sonnei. The performance of enrichment media for recovery of Shigella and STEC could be improved by mitigating the impact of inhibitors produced by food microbiota during the enrichment process.