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In-depth investigation of the safety of wooden shelves used for traditional cheese ripening

  • Autori: Settanni L.; Busetta G.; Puccio V.; Licitra G.; Franciosi E.; Botta L.; Di Gerlando R.; Todaro M.; Gaglio R.
  • Anno di pubblicazione: 2021
  • Tipologia: Articolo in rivista
  • OA Link:


The main goal of this research was to characterize the bacterial diversity of the wooden boards used for aging traditional Sicilian cheeses and to evaluate whether pathogenic bacteria are associated with these surfaces. Eighteen cheese dairy factories producing three traditional cheese typologies (PDO Pecorino Siciliano, PDO Piacentinu Ennese, and Caciocavallo Palermitano) were selected within the region of Sicily. The wooden shelf surfaces were sampled by a destructive method to detach wood splinters as well as by a nondestructive brushing to collect microbial cells. Scanning electron microscopy showed the presence of almost continuous bacterial formations on the majority of the shelves analyzed. Yeasts and fungal hyphae were also visualized, indicating the complexity of the plank communities. The amplicon library of the 16S rRNA gene V3-V4 region was paired-end sequenced using the Illumina MiSeq system, allowing the identification of 14 phyla, 32 classes, 52 orders, 93 families, and 137 genera. Staphylococcus equorum was identified from all wooden surfaces, with a maximum abundance of 64.75%. Among cheese-surface-ripening bacteria, Brevibacterium and Corynebacterium were detected in almost all samples. Several halophilic (Halomonas, Tetragenococcus halophilus, Chromohalobacter, Salimicrobium, Marinococcus, Salegentibacter, Haererehalobacter, Marinobacter, and Idiomarinaceae) and moderately halophilic (Salinicoccus, Psychrobacter, and Salinisphaera) bacteria were frequently identified. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) were present at low percentages in the genera Leuconostoc, Lactococcus, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Streptococcus. The levels of viable microorganisms on the wooden shelves ranged between 2.4 and 7.8 log CFU/cm2. In some cases, LAB were counted at very high levels (8.2 log CFU/cm2). Members of the Enterobacteriaceae family were detected in a viable state for only six samples. Coagulase-positive staphylococci, Salmonella spp., and Listeria monocytogenes were not detected. Seventy-five strains belonged to the genera Leuconostoc, Lactococcus, Pediococcus, Enterococcus, Lactobacillus, and Weissella. IMPORTANCE This study provides evidence for the lack of pathogenic bacteria on the wooden shelves used to ripen internal bacterially ripened semihard and hard cheeses produced in Sicily. These three cheeses are not inoculated on their surfaces, and surface ripening is not considered to occur or, at least, does not occur at the same extent as surface-inoculated smear cheeses. Several bacterial groups identified from the wooden shelves are typically associated with smear cheeses, strongly suggesting that PDO Pecorino Siciliano, PDO Piacentinu Ennese, and Caciocavallo Palermitano cheese rind contributes to their final organoleptic profiles.