Biofilms on food preparation surfaces

From MicrobeWiki, the student-edited microbiology resource


Scanning electron microscopy photomicrograph of a 6 old B. cereus biofilm formed on a stainless steel surface. x 6330 magnification; bar = 5 micron.[1]

Biofilms are a consortium of microorganisms and extracellular substances in association with a solid surface in contact with liquid. It is nature of microorganisms to attach to wet surface, and form slimy layer composed of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) to protect themselves from grazers and harsh environment. Biofilms can be beneficial or detrimental to the environment on which they form. For example, stream biofilm is capable of recycling organic matter. On the other hand, biofilms forming on food-contact surfaces can lead to hygienic problems and economical losses due to food spoilage. Food-contact surfaces can be a great habitat for food-borne pathogens because food preparation surfaces are usually in contact with organic matter such as milk which is a good source of nutrients for microorganisms, with inorganic debris, with other microorganisms. Once bacteria irreversibly attach to the surface, they produce EPS, which helps bind cells together, to the surface, and to other particulate materials. Cells also communicate between themselves to initiate antibiotic biosynthesis, and extracellular enzyme biosynthesis.

Physical Environment

Physical properties of the environment are essential for microorganism attachment to the substratum, biofilm formation ,and microbial processes. For example, food conditioning surfaces may promote the attachment of bacteria. The pH and temperature also affect microbial metabolism processes. Some of the physical conditions are described below.

Conditioning of a Surface

Biofilm formation can occur on any submerged surfaces in any environment with the present of bacteria. On food preparation surfaces, bacteria, inorganic and organic materials get adsorb on the surface in minutes of substratum immersion into liquids leading to conditioning surfaces. In food industry, this conditioning film may be proteins from milk or meat. Protein from milk was studied to adsorb to numbers of food-contacting surfaces such as Teflon, stainless steel, and aluminosilicate [3]. The conditioning can alter physio-chemical properties of the surface, surface charge, surface free energy, surface hydrophobicity, which further results in bacterial attachment on the surface. [4].

Surface Charge and Hydrophobicity

Surface charge and hydrophobicity of both bacterial cells and a conditioning surface play an important role in microbial attachment on the surface. These two factors have an impact on the length of time cells are associated with the substratrum. Surface charge results in electrostatic interaction between 2 surfaces. Moreover, cell surface hydrophobicity is also important in adhesion because hydrophobic interaction tends to increase with increasing non-polar property of each surface.

Surface Topography

The relationship between surface roughness and the attachment and growth of bacteria may vary. It was shown that two strains of Yersinia have a strong correlation between the roughness amplitude of the substratrum and adhesion. On the other hand, another showed that little correlation was found on attachment of streptococci to stainless steel.

pH and Temperature

The pH and temperature of a contact surface govern many physical and biological processes of bacterial cells. It was studied that the maximum adhesion of Pseudomonas fragi to stainless steel surfaces was at the pH range of 7 to 8, which was also optimum for cell metabolism. Another study showed that Yersinia enterocolitica attached to stainless steel surfaces better at 21 °C than at 35 °C or 10 °C.

Oxygen Availability and Moisture

The oxygen gradient in a schematic biofilm.[2]

The structure of biofilms has a porous structure with a number of capillary water channel within which water and nutrients are transported through. It is believed that these capillaries are responsible for oxygen transport to the inner areas of biofilms. Unfortunately, due to oxygen limited diffusion ability and oxygen consumption, the inner areas encounter low oxygen concentration or anaerobic condition. This phenomenon explains why aerobic and anaerobic bacteria can live together in biofilms.

Stainless Steel as a Food Source Contact Surface

Stainless steel is the most common food contact surface used in the food industry. Stainless steel is suitable for the food industry because of the stability of physical and chemical properties at a various processing temperature. It is highly resistant to corrosion and easy to clean. However, if taking a look at microscopic level of stainless steel surface, it is amazing that stainless steel is composed of cracks and crevices. These structures are different from macroscopic appearance. Such topography allows bacteria and organic substances from food to attach. Studies have shown the attachment of food-borne pathogens and spoiled microorganisms to stainless steel.

Biofilm Formation

Biofilm formation includes a sequence of steps as shown in a picture below. The biofilm formation process is fairly slow and reaches a millimeter thick in days according to culture conditions. Due to difference in nutritional requirements, composition of biofilms is not homogeneous, and the microorganisms withing biofilms distribute non-uniformly. Increase in the size of biofilms can take place by the deposition of other organic and inorganic substances, or other microorganisms. On the other hand, sloughing and detachment can lead to decrease in size of biofilms.

Processing governing biofilm formation.[1]

Biological Interactions

Biofilm Ecosystem Development

Intercellular Communication within Biofilm Communities

Cell-Cell Communication

Bacterial community development involves self-organizing and cell cooperation. Within biofilms, different bacterial communities cooperate with each other rather than compete. This concept becomes particular in study of biofilms. Cell-cell signaling may play an important role in microorganism attachment and detachment from biofilms. The successful adaptation of bacteria to the changing environment depends on the ability of themselves to sense and respond to the external environment and regulate gene expression accordingly.

Quorum Sensing

Quorum sensing is based on an auto-induced process.The process of quorum provides cells with a self-organizing mechanism and gene regulation. The quorum sensing begins with bacteria monitor and feel the environment. After that bacteria may produce a diffusible organic signal molecule which accumulates in the surrounding environment during the growth. High cell densities result in high concentration of signal. High signal concentration can induce gene or physiological changes in neighboring cells. Therefore, a respond to signal by bacteria in the environment is dependent on signal concentration.

Quorum sensing involves in a range of important microbial activities. These activities include biofilm formation, biofilm development, antibiotic synthesis, extracellular enzyme biosynthesis, EPS synthesis and extracellular virulence factors in Gram-negative bacteria.

Coaggregation and Aggregation

The abilities of biofilms to form correlate with the ability to aggregate in liquid culture. Similar phenotypes tend to autoaggregate and clump. Coaggreagation enables cells to withstand the highly changing environment, which on the other hand can adversely affect monodispersed cells. Coaggregation usually refers to adhesion between genetically distinct microorganisms. These distinct bacteria are bound together by specific molecules. Coaggregation in biofilms is important in development of mix-culture biofilms.


The study of Gram-negative bacterium E. coli in biofilm development lead to the finding that conjugative pili might act as cell adhesin interconnecting and stabilizing biofilm structure. This cell-cell attachment is based on plasmid-encoded and is subject to conjugal gene transfer. Dissemination of these plasmids among bacterial cells can enhance biofilm formation, biofilm development, and can strengthen the stability of the biofilm structure. Conjugation may be another mechanism that bacteria develop to transfer plasmid to the adjacent cells. Therefore, many cells in the ecosystem will acquire and express the biofilm attributes. This process could be a mechanism that bacteria develop to rapidly and effectively expand the ecosystem. Conjugal process is also independent of quorum sensing signal.

Microbial Processes

Extracellular Polymeric Substances (EPS)

After the initial contact with the surface, bacteria start to produce thin fiber layer. This fiber layer is called extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). EPS act as glue to bind cells and other particulates and to adhere cells to the surface. Bacterial EPS are mainly composed of polysaccharides, proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, phospholipids, and humic substances. Polysaccharides and proteins are the main composition of EPS approximately 75-89%.

A gel phase is formed in biofilms in which bacteria live. The EPS matrix acts as a barrier against adverse conditions. For example, biofilms are observed to be able to tolerate high concentrations of biocides. The EPS layer delays or prevents diffusion of antimicrobial solution from reaching target microorganisms.

Horizontal Gene Transfer

Key Microorganisms

What kind of microbes do we typically find in this environment? Or associated with important processes in this environment? Describe key groups of microbes that we find in this environment, and any special adaptations they may have evolved to survive in this environment. Add sections/subsections as needed. Look at other microbe listings in MicrobeWiki. Are some of the groups of microbes from your environment already described? Create links to those pages. Specific microbial populations will be included in the next section.

Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., Staphylococcus spp., Escherichia coli O157:H7

Listeria monocytogenes

important foodborne pathogen-listeriosis outbreak in Canada psychophilic bacteria- grow in refrigerated ready-to-eat food that may be contaminated during processing and packaging.

Pseudomonas spp.

the most important bacteria causing spoilage of conventionally pasteurize liquid milk products: 2 routes 1)raw milk- enzyme 2)post pasteurization milk

Bacteriophage in Biofilms

Examples of organisms within the group

List examples of specific microbes that represent key groups or are associated with important processes found in this environment. Link to other MicrobeWiki pages where possible.

Current Research

Approach for Biofilm Mitigation- biofilm prevention

Green Strategy for Biofilms Control

Cleaning and Removal of Biofilm

Microscopic Examination of Biofilms

Attachment of Microorganisms on Food Contacting Surfaces

Enter summaries of recent research here--at least three required


[Sample reference] Takai, K., Sugai, A., Itoh, T., and Horikoshi, K. "Palaeococcus ferrophilus gen. nov., sp. nov., a barophilic, hyperthermophilic archaeon from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent chimney". International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 2000. Volume 50. p. 489-500.

Edited by student of Angela Kent at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.