Tahini, a low-moisture food that is made from sesame seeds, has been implicated in outbreaks of salmonellosis. In this study, the fate of Salmonella was determined through an entire process for the manufacture of tahini, including a 24-h seed soaking period before roasting, subsequent grinding, and storage at refrigeration temperature. Salmonella populations increased by more than 3 log CFU/g during a 24-h soaking period, reaching more than 7 log CFU/g. Survival of Salmonella during roasting at three temperatures, 95, 110, and 130°C, was assessed using seeds on which Salmonella was grown. Salmonella survival was impacted both by temperature and the water activity (aw) at the beginning of the roasting period. When roasted at 130°C with a high initial aw (≥0.90) and starting Salmonella populations of ∼8.5 log CFU/g, populations quickly decreased below detection limits within the first 10 min. However, when the seeds were reduced to an aw of 0.45 before roasting at the same temperature, 3.5 log CFU/g remained on the seeds after 60 min. In subsequent storage studies, seeds were roasted at 130°C for 15 min before processing into tahini. For the storage studies, tahini was inoculated using two methods. The first method used seeds on which Salmonella was first grown before roasting. In the second method, Salmonella was inoculated into the tahini after manufacture. All tahini was stored for 119 days at 4°C. No change in Salmonella populations was recorded for tahini throughout the entire 119 days regardless of the inoculation method used. These combined results indicate the critical importance of aw during a roasting step during tahini manufacture. Salmonella that survive roasting will likely remain viable throughout the normal shelf life of tahini.
Keywords: Salmonella; Sesame seeds; Tahini; Thermal processing.