Vegetative, non-sporeforming foodborne pathogens show notable survival and uncanny thermotolerance in low water activity (aw) foods. Controlled studies on Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., and Enterococcus faecium NRRL B-2354 (a Salmonella surrogate) in a variety of food matrices support thermal process validation studies required to achieve global food safety objectives. In this study, we determined and compared thermal inactivation rates using independent six-strain cocktails of pathogens in three plant-based butters. Direct determinations of decimal reduction times (D-values) for L. monocytogenes, Salmonella, and E. faecium, in corresponding butters were inoculated using peanut oil, almond oil, or sunflower oil. Thermal Death Time (TDT) studies for the organisms were conducted in triplicate. Uniform bagged plant- based butter samples of Salmonella spp. or L. monocytogenes, or E. faecium alone were sandwiched in copper plates immobilized with recessed magnets. Samples underwent rapid heat treatments via water immersion under isothermal conditions ranging from 70°C to 85°C. Bacterial destruction in peanut butter (46% fat, 0.20 aw @ 25°C), almond butter, (50% fat, 0.32 aw @ 25°C), or sunflower butter (56% fat, 0.15 aw @ 25°C) was determined by direct plating. The TDT studies showed Salmonella spp. had consistently higher D-values than L. monocytogenes in all treatments, but pair-wise comparisons found no statistical difference when assessing the thermotolerance of the two pathogens in the individual plant-based butters tested (p > 0.005). These data support Salmonella as the primary pathogen of concern in low water activity foods and show the heat resistance of L. monocytogenes can approximate destruction kinetics observed for Salmonella spp. in low aw matrices. E. faecium exhibited the highest thermotolerance. This further supports the utility of this surrogate for Salmonella spp. and L. monocytogenes in high fat, low-moisture foods similar to the plant-based butters tested. Thermotolerance differences between a dry talc vs. peanut oil-based inoculation procedures in peanut butter were also evaluated. Surprisingly, the oil-based inoculations resulted in lower D- values (p > 0.01) for Salmonella spp. and the surrogate when compared to the dry inoculum.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science



Date Submitted


Document Type





food safety, low-moisture foods, plant-based butter, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Enterococcus faecium NRRL B-2354



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Life Sciences Commons