Cherney Blog: Inside The Petridish

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Cherney Blog: Inside The Petridish

Your blog resource for education, experience, and a good read!

What IS that? - It's a Biofilm!

Posted by Lauren Ellie on Mar 9, 2021 10:51:18 AM
Lauren Ellie
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31314Ew, what’s that sticky, slimy residue?
 

Biofilms are a major factor in pathogen persistence within a food production environment. Biofilms can cause bacterial contamination of food and secondary contamination of food contact surfaces. Common microorganisms that form biofilms, (Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli, Listeria, Salmonella, etc) all pose serious food safety risks if they are present in your food processing environment. 

 
So what exactly are biofilms?
 
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Biofilms are a collection of bacterial cells from one or more types of microorganisms that form a film on a surface. The organisms start to multiply and secrete a slimy extracellular matrix in which cells are wrapped and protected. This secretion contains proteins, enzymes, and water that help the biofilm survive. One common example of a biofilm is dental plaque which is just a slimy buildup of bacteria. How pleasant to think about, right?
 
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Think of biofilms as city of microbes. This city of microbes, can be composed of different organisms or inhabitants if you will, and each plays a role in helping the city to thrive. Within the biofilm, organisms prioritize their abilities to grow and express certain traits that help them survive. The organization or composition of the biofilm with its many microbes, provides an ideal environment for the exchange of genetic material (bow chicka wow wow 😉). This in turn facilitates the transfer of desirable survival traits needed in an adverse environment to increase the biofilms resistance and help it to survive.
 
Biofilms, like cities, are constantly changing and adapting. They are able to change structure to adapt to the amount of nutrients present. When nutrients are high, colonies grow and reproduce faster and consequently the biofilm thickness increases. When nutrients are low, biofilm mass is reduced but overall the biofilm is still viable.
  
Question: Where can you typically find biofilms?
 
The answer is, just about anywhere really. Biofilms can adhere to various structures: food products, surfaces of food manufacturing equipment, storage and transport materials. They can adhere to many different surfaces such as glass, plastic, metal, etc. 
 
Question: Could biofilms be present in my food production areas?
 
Wet production areas and the availability of nutrients (which can come from food products) make an ideal environment for biofilm development. Biofilm forming organisms would have all they need to put down roots when left undisturbed and would remain very happy within a damp nutrient-rich production environment.
 
In food production areas, when biofilms mature they can release cells from the main community which then are free to migrate to new surfaces that can spread the biofilm to other areas. Having good GMPs, knowing where your risk areas are, and having thorough hygiene practices will help deter the formation of biofilms in the first place.
 
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Question: What is it that makes biofilms so difficult to eradicate?
 
  1. Their structure
  2. Their extracellular matrix secretions.

Biofilms have a complex structure, since they are often made up of many different kinds of bacteria. A biofilm, composed of multiple different organisms, can reduce the effectiveness of common disinfectants and wreak havoc on your environmental program. Instead of just dealing with one or two hazardous microorganisms, biofilms can be formed from hundreds of bacteria. Once these various types of bacteria reproduce and optimize their genetic traits, the biofilms resistance can be difficult to deal with. Even after a biofilm seems to be removed there can be persister cells that were once dormant to survive but are still viable and are able to reproduce and revive the biofilm.
 
Biofilms are also difficult to deal with because of their secretions of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). These EPS secretions not only help anchor the biofilm to various surfaces but it also helps build resistance to mechanical damage (scrubbing during cleaning), and antimicrobial agents. Some biofilms can survive UV radiation, harsh environmental conditions, and abrupt pH changes (sanitization).
 
Recognize the areas are in your plant that are difficult to clean, small cracks and crevices are good environments for biofilm formation. Also make sure to consider those hard to reach areas that are near food contact surfaces since those will need special attention during routine cleaning.
 
So the next time you think you might be dealing with a biofilm situation and need advice:
 
Who you gonna call?
Cherney Micro!

Topics: Continuing Education, Cherney Micro, Food Safety, Environmental Monitoring, Microbiology, Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Service to the Customer, Technical Services, Biofilm