Sodium chloride (NaCl) in cheese contributes to flavor and texture directly and by its effect on microbial and enzymatic activity. The salt-to-moisture ratio (S/M) is used to gauge if conditions for producing good-quality cheese have been met. Reductions in salt that deviate from the ideal S/M range could result in changing culture acidification profiles during cheese making. Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis or Lc. lactis ssp. cremoris are both used as cultures in Cheddar cheese manufacture, but Lc. lactis ssp. lactis has a higher salt and pH tolerance than Lc. lactis ssp. cremoris. Both salt and pH are used to control growth and survival of Listeria monocytogenes and salts such as KCl are commonly used to replace the effects of NaCl in food when NaCl is reduced. The objectives of this project were to determine the effects of sodium reduction, KCl use, and the subspecies of Lc. lactis used on L. monocytogenes survival in stirred-curd Cheddar cheese. Cheese was manufactured with either Lc. lactis ssp. lactis or Lc. lactis ssp. cremoris. At the salting step, curd was divided and salted with a concentration targeted to produce a final cheese with 600mg of sodium/100g (control), 25% reduced sodium (450mg of sodium/100g; both with and without KCl), and low sodium (53% sodium reduction or 280mg of sodium/100g; both with and without KCl). Potassium chloride was added on a molar equivalent to the NaCl it replaced to maintain an equivalent S/M. Cheese was inoculated with a 5-strain cocktail of L. monocytogenes at different times during aging to simulate postprocessing contamination, and counts were monitored over 27 or 50d, depending on incubation temperature (12 or 5°C, respectively). In cheese inoculated with 4 log10 cfu of L. monocytogenes/g 2wk after manufacture, viable counts declined by more than 3 log10 cfu/g in all treatments over 60d. When inoculated with 5 log10 cfu/g at 3mo of cheese age, L. monocytogenes counts in Cheddar cheese were also reduced during storage, but by less than 1.5 log10 cfu/g after 50d. However, cheese with a 50% reduction in sodium without KCl had higher counts than full-sodium cheese at the end of 50d of incubation at 4°C when inoculated at 3mo. When inoculated at 8mo postmanufacture, this trend was only observed in 50% reduced sodium with KCl, for cheese manufactured with both cultures. This enhanced survival for 50% reduced-sodium cheese was not seen when a higher incubation temperature (12°C) was used when cheese was inoculated at 3mo of age and monitored for 27d (no difference in treatments was observed at this incubation temperature). In the event of postprocessing contamination during later stages of ripening, L. monocytogenes was capable of survival in Cheddar cheese regardless of which culture was used, whether or not sodium had been reduced by as much as 50% from standard concentrations, or if KCl had been added to maintain the effective S/M of full-sodium Cheddar cheese.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The researchers thank the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center (Saint Paul, MN), the Minnesota Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (Crookston, MN) for their financial support, as well as Ray Miller, students, and staff of the Joseph J. Warthesen Food Processing Center and the University of Minnesota (Saint Paul) for their assistance. E. Hystead was supported through a Fellowship from the Frontier Program from Kansas State University (Manhattan) during this study.
- Cheddar cheese
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Sodium reduction