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Viable and Total Bacterial Populations Undergo Equipment- and Time-Dependent Shifts during Milk Processing.


We set out to identify the viable and total bacterial content in milk as it passes through a large-scale, dairy product manufacturing plant for pasteurization, concentration, separation, blending, and storage prior to cheese manufacture. A total of 142 milk samples were collected from up to 10 pieces of equipment for a period spanning 21 h on two collection dates in the spring and late summer of 2014. Bacterial composition in the milk was determined by 16S rRNA marker gene, high-throughput DNA sequencing. Milk samples from the late summer were paired such that half were treated with propidium monoazide (PMA) to enrich for viable cells prior to quantification by PCR and identification by DNA sequence analysis. Streptococcus had the highest median relative abundance across all sampling sites within the facility on both sampling dates. The proportions of Anoxybacillus, Thermus, Lactococcus, Lactobacillus, Micrococcaceae, and Pseudomonas were also elevated in some samples. Viable cells detected by PMA treatment showed that Turicibacter was enriched after high-temperature short-time pasteurization, whereas proportions of Staphylococcus were significantly reduced. Using clean-in-place (CIP) times as a reference point, Bacillus, Pseudomonas, and Anoxybacillus were found in high relative proportions in several recently cleaned silos (<19 h since CIP). At later times (>19 h after CIP), 10 of 11 silos containing elevated viable cell numbers were enriched in Acinetobacter and/or Lactococcus These results show the tremendous point-to-point and sample-dependent variations in bacterial composition in milk during processing.IMPORTANCE Milk undergoes sustained contact with the built environment during processing into finished dairy products. This contact has the potential to influence the introduction, viability, and growth of microorganisms within the milk. Currently, the population dynamics of bacteria in milk undergoing processing are not well understood. Therefore, we measured for total and viable bacterial composition and cell numbers in milk over time and at different processing points in a cheese manufacturing facility in California. Our results provide new perspectives on the dramatic variations in microbial populations in milk during processing even over short amounts of time. Although some of the changes in the milk microbiota were predictable (e.g., reduced viable cell numbers after pasteurization), other findings could not be easily foreseen based on knowledge of bacteria contained in raw milk or when the equipment was last cleaned. This information is important for predicting and controlling microbial spoilage contaminants in dairy products.

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