Dairy fermentations are among the oldest food processing applications, aimed at preservation and shelf-life extension through the use of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) starter cultures, in particular strains of Lactococcus lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus spp. and Leuconostoc spp. Traditionally this was performed by continuous passaging of undefined cultures from a finished fermentation to initiate the next fermentation. More recently, consumer demands on consistent and desired flavours and textures of dairy products have led to a more defined approach to such processes. Dairy (starter) companies have responded to the need to define the nature and complexity of the starter culture mixes, and dairy fermentations are now frequently based on defined starter cultures of low complexity, where each starter component imparts specific technological properties that are desirable to the product. Both mixed and defined starter culture approaches create the perfect environment for the proliferation of (bacterio)phages capable of infecting these LAB. The repeated use of the same starter cultures in a single plant, coupled to the drive towards higher and consistent production levels, increases the risk and negative impact of phage infection. In this review we will discuss recent advances in tracking the adaptation of phages to the dairy industry, the advances in understanding LAB phage-host interactions, including evolutionary and genomic aspects.
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