Molecular epidemiological survey of Citrobacter freundii misidentified as Cronobacter spp. (Enterobacter sakazakii) and Enterobacter hormaechei isolated from powdered infant milk formula

Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2011 Apr;8(4):517-25. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2010.0719. Epub 2011 Jan 4.


A total of 75 powdered infant milk formula (PIF) samples collected from pharmacies and drugstores in Western Sicily, Italy, and representative of 12 different brands were analyzed in this study to evaluate their microbiological quality. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocol, 32 samples out of 75 were contaminated by enterobacteria. Commercial biochemical API(r) 20E-system identification method indicated that six PIF samples were presumptively contaminated by Cronobacter spp., but further characterization by alpha-glucosidase based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay identification strongly suggested that these strains did not belong to the genus Cronobacter. Phylogenetic analysis of partial 16S rRNA (rrs) sequences combined with the results of biochemical tests allowed to identify the six strains as Citrobacter freundii. Similarly, rrs sequence analysis identified as Enterobacter hormaechei 23 strains originally ascribed to Enterobacter cloacae by the API 20E system. Characterization of C. freundii and E. hormaechei PIF isolates by the DiversiLab(r) repetitive sequence-based PCR (rep-PCR) typing method revealed a variety of amplification patterns, but the recovery of the same rep-PCR genotype in several products might indicate a special adaptation of genetic clones to this food or cross-contamination through common ingredients. Antibiotic-resistance profiles were also determined, but none of the strains tested was resistant to third-generation cephalosporins or fluoroquinolones and extended-spectrum beta-lactamase activity was not detected. Our results confirm that E. hormaechei contamination of PIF is widespread, thus making it a cause for concern. Similarly to what was demonstrated for E. hormaechei, we suggest that C. freundii also may be an under-reported cause of bacterial infection, especially in high-risk neonates, due to misidentification.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques*
  • Citrobacter freundii / classification
  • Citrobacter freundii / drug effects
  • Citrobacter freundii / genetics
  • Citrobacter freundii / isolation & purification*
  • Cronobacter sakazakii / classification
  • Cronobacter sakazakii / drug effects
  • Cronobacter sakazakii / genetics
  • Cronobacter sakazakii / isolation & purification
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Enterobacter / classification
  • Enterobacter / drug effects
  • Enterobacter / genetics
  • Enterobacter / isolation & purification*
  • Food Inspection / methods
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Food, Formulated / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula / statistics & numerical data*
  • Italy
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Phylogeny
  • Powders
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Bacterial / metabolism
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Species Specificity
  • alpha-Glucosidases / genetics
  • alpha-Glucosidases / metabolism


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Powders
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • alpha-Glucosidases