Enterococci in foods--a conundrum for food safety

Int J Food Microbiol. 2003 Dec 1;88(2-3):105-22. doi: 10.1016/s0168-1605(03)00174-0.


Enterococci form part of the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) of importance in foods. They can spoil processed meats but they are on the other hand important for ripening and aroma development of certain traditional cheeses and sausages, especially those produced in the Mediterranean area. Enterococci are also used as human probiotics. However, they are important nosocomial pathogens that cause bacteraemia, endocarditis and other infections. Some strains are resistant to many antibiotics, but antibiotic resistance alone cannot explain the virulence of some of these bacteria. Virulence factors such as adhesins, invasins and haemolysin have been described. The role of enterococci in disease has raised questions on their safety for use in foods or as probiotics. Studies on the incidence of virulence traits among enterococcal strains isolated from food showed that some harbour virulence traits and generally, Enterococcus faecalis harbours more of them than Enterococcus faecium. Regulations in Europe stipulate that safety of probiotic or starter strains is the responsibility of the producer; therefore, each strain intended for such use should be carefully evaluated. For numerous questions, immediate answers are not fully available. It is therefore suggested that when considering an Enterococcus strain for use as a starter or probiotic culture, it is imperative that each particular strain should be carefully evaluated for the presence of all known virulence factors. Ideally, such strains should harbour no virulence determinants and should be sensitive to clinically relevant antibiotics. In general, E. faecium appears to pose a lower risk for use in foods, because these strains generally harbour fewer recognised virulence determinants than E. faecalis. Generally, the incidence of such virulence determinants among E. faecium strains is low, as compared to E. faecalis strains, probably as a result of the presence of pheromone-responsive plasmids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Consumer Product Safety*
  • Enterococcus / classification
  • Enterococcus / pathogenicity*
  • Enterococcus / physiology
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Foodborne Diseases / microbiology*
  • Foodborne Diseases / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Probiotics
  • Virulence