Mesophilic and psychrotrophic organism viable counts, as well as high-throughput 16S rRNA gene-based pyrosequencing, were performed with the aim of elucidating the origin of psychrotrophic lactic acid bacteria (LAB) in a ready-to-eat (RTE) meal manufacturing plant. The microbial counts of the products at the end of the shelf life were greatly underestimated when mesophilic incubation was implemented due to overlooked, psychrotrophic members of the LAB. Pseudomonas spp., Enterobacteriaceae, Streptococcaceae, and Lactobacillus spp. constituted the most widespread operational taxonomic units (OTUs), whereas Leuconostoc gelidum was detected as a minor member of the indigenous microbiota of the food ingredients and microbial community of the processing environment, albeit it colonized samples at almost every sampling point on the premises. However, L. gelidum became the most predominant microbe at the end of the shelf life. The ability of L. gelidum to outgrow notorious, spoilage-related taxa like Pseudomonas, Brochothrix, and Lactobacillus underpins its high growth dynamics and severe spoilage character under refrigeration temperatures. The use of predicted metagenomes was useful for observation of putative gene repertoires in the samples analyzed in this study. The end products grouped in clusters characterized by gene profiles related to carbohydrate depletion presumably associated with a fast energy yield, a finding which is consistent with the fastidious nature of highly competitive LAB that dominated at the end of the shelf life. The present study showcases the detrimental impact of contamination with psychrotrophic LAB on the shelf life of packaged and cold-stored foodstuffs and the long-term quality implications for production batches once resident microbiota are established in the processing environment.
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