The presence of bacterial spores in cocoa powders is inevitable due to the cocoa bean fermentation process, during which members of the genera Bacillus and Geobacillus are typically present. Spores are a concern in heat-treated foods when they survive heat treatments and the finished product supports germination, growth, and potentially toxin production. In this study, available methods for the enumeration of total mesophilic and thermophilic spores (TMS and TTS, respectively) were evaluated, leading to the recommendation of one global method specifically for cocoa powders. The proposed method was validated during a ring test on seven selected cocoa powders and applied during routine analyses on commercial powders. The method includes dilution of cocoa powder using buffered peptone water, heating at 80°C for 10 min for TMS and TTS counts, and heating at 100°C for 30 min for a heat-resistant (HR) spore count. Tryptic soy agar is used as a recovery medium with a maximal concentration of cocoa powder of 2.5 mg/mL (to prevent growth inhibition) and a nonnutrient agar overlay to prevent swarming of bacteria. Plates are incubated for at least 72 h at 30°C for recovery of mesophilic bacteria and 55°C for thermophilic bacteria. Suitable alternatives to specific method parameters are provided. Median values of total spore concentrations are low (<400 CFU/g for TMS and <75 CFU/g for TTS), and concentrations of HR spores are very low (<5 CFU/g). Importantly, the relation between concentrations of HR spores in cocoa powder and incidence of spoilage of heat-treated beverages containing cocoa is currently unclear. In the powders included in this study, Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus licheniformis were the predominant spore-forming species identified (49 and 39%, respectively). Both species are known for high variability in spore heat resistance. The development of reliable and sensitive molecular methods is therefore required to assess the risk of spoilage caused by spores present in cocoa powders.
Enumeration and Identification of Bacterial Spores in Cocoa Powders
ROBYN T. EIJLANDER; FRANZISKA BREITENWIESER; ROSANNE de GROOT; ERIK HOORNSTRA; HENRI KAMPHUIS; MICHIEL KOKKEN; ANGELINA KUIJPERS; INDAUÊ IEDA GIRIBONI de MELLO; GEERTJE van de RIJDT; CÉCILE VADIER; MARJON H. J. WELLS-BENNIK
J Food Prot (2020) 83 (9): 1530–1539.