• Redefining the effect of salt on thermophilic starter cell viability, culturability and metabolic activity in cheese

      Hickey, Cian D; Fallico, Vincenzo; Wilkinson, M.G.; Sheehan, Diarmuid (JJ); Dairy Levy Trust; 6259 (Elsevier, 2017-08-23)
      This study investigated the differential effect of salt concentration in the outside and inside layers of brine salted cheeses on viability, culturability and enzyme activity of starter bacteria. The high-salt environment of the outside layer caused a sharp decrease in L. helveticus viability as measured by traditional plate counts. Remarkably, this was associated with lower release of intracellular enzymes (LDH), reduced levels of proteolysis and larger membrane integrity as measured by flow cytometry (FC) following classical Live/Dead staining. FC analysis of light scattering properties highlighted a significant reduction in size and granularity of the microbiota located in the cheese surface, suggestive of cell shrinkage and condensation of internal macromolecules probably due to hyperosmotic stress. The microbiota of the cheese surface were found to experience greater oxidative stress, as measured by FC analysis of the total levels of reactive oxygen species, compared to that of the interior layer. These results lead us to postulate that the physiology and health status of the microbiota were significantly different in the outer and inner layers of the cheese. The hyperosmotic environment of the outer layer resulted in reduced cell lysis, as measurable by assays based upon membrane integrity, but rather triggered cell death via mechanisms involving cell shrinkage and ROS-mediated damage of vital intracellular components. This study challenges the current thinking on how salt controls microbial activity in ripening cheese, especially in cheeses which are brine salted as local variations in biochemical ripening indices can differ significantly from the outside to the inside of a ripening cheese.