Exploring the Sources of Bacterial Spoilers in Beefsteaks by Culture-Independent High-Throughput Sequencing

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 25;8(7):e70222. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070222. Print 2013.


Microbial growth on meat to unacceptable levels contributes significantly to change meat structure, color and flavor and to cause meat spoilage. The types of microorganisms initially present in meat depend on several factors and multiple sources of contamination can be identified. The aims of this study were to evaluate the microbial diversity in beefsteaks before and after aerobic storage at 4°C and to investigate the sources of microbial contamination by examining the microbiota of carcasses wherefrom the steaks originated and of the processing environment where the beef was handled. Carcass, environmental (processing plant) and meat samples were analyzed by culture-independent high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA gene amplicons. The microbiota of carcass swabs was very complex, including more than 600 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) belonging to 15 different phyla. A significant association was found between beef microbiota and specific beef cuts (P<0.01) indicating that different cuts of the same carcass can influence the microbial contamination of beef. Despite the initially high complexity of the carcass microbiota, the steaks after aerobic storage at 4°C showed a dramatic decrease in microbial complexity. Pseudomonas sp. and Brochothrix thermosphacta were the main contaminants, and Acinetobacter, Psychrobacter and Enterobacteriaceae were also found. Comparing the relative abundance of OTUs in the different samples it was shown that abundant OTUs in beefsteaks after storage occurred in the corresponding carcass. However, the abundance of these same OTUs clearly increased in environmental samples taken in the processing plant suggesting that spoilage-associated microbial species originate from carcasses, they are carried to the processing environment where the meat is handled and there they become a resident microbiota. Such microbiota is then further spread on meat when it is handled and it represents the starting microbial association wherefrom the most efficiently growing microbial species take over during storage and can cause spoilage.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques
  • Cattle
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • DNA, Bacterial / classification
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Food Handling
  • Food Microbiology
  • Food Storage
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / classification
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / genetics*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / growth & development
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / classification
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / genetics*
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Meat Products / microbiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / classification
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics*
  • Refrigeration


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.