Evaluation of the extent and type of bacterial contamination at different stages of processing of cooked ham

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In an attempt to determine the composition and origin of the spoilage flora of refrigerated vacuum-packed cooked ham, the changes in microbial numbers and types were followed along the processing line. Results revealedLactobacillus sake and Leuconostoc mesenteroides ssp.mesenteroides as the major causative agents of spoilage of sliced ham stored at 4 °C and 12 °C, due to recontamination in the cutting room. On the contrary, the progressive deterioration of whole ham under the same storage conditions was associated with a non-identifiable group of leuconostoc-like bacteria. Except for lactic acid bacteria, no other organism grew in vacuum packs of either sliced or whole ham. Although atypical leuconostocs could not be detected among isolates recovered from freshly produced whole ham, they appeared to survive cooking and proliferate during storage. Neither these organisms however, nor Lact. sake andLeuc. mesenteroides were important in curing and tumbling as carnobacteria, mainly Carnobacterium divergens, andBrochothrix thermosphacta dominated at this stage. A progressive inversion of the ham microflora from mostly Gram-negative at the beginning of processing to highly Gram-positive prior to cooking was noted.Listeria monocytogenes cross-contaminated ham during tumbling. However, the pathogen was always absent from the vacuum-packed product provided that heating to a core temperature of 70 °C occurred and recontamination during slicing and packing was prevented. The percentage distribution of different species of lactic acid bacteria as well as the uncommon phenotypic characteristics of some strains were discussed.

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