The most notorious spoilage organism of sweet intermediate moisture foods (IMFs) is Zygosaccharomyces rouxii, which can grow at low water activity, low pH and in the presence of organic acids. Together with an increased consumer demand for preservative free and healthier food products with less sugar and fat and a traditionally long self-life of sweet IMFs, the presence of Z. rouxii in the raw materials for IMFs has made assessment of the microbiological stability a significant hurdle in product development. Therefore, knowledge on growth/no growth boundaries of Z. rouxii in sweet IMFs is important to ensure microbiological stability and aid product development. Several models have been developed for fat based, sweet IMFs. However, fruit/sugar based IMFs, such as fruit based chocolate fillings and jams, have lower pH and aw than what is accounted for in previously developed models. In the present study growth/no growth models for acidified sweet IMFs were developed with the variables aw (0.65-0.80), pH (2.5-4.0), ethanol (0-14.5% (w/w) in water phase) and time (0-90 days). Two different strains of Z. rouxii previously found to show pronounced resistance to the investigated variables were included in model development, to account for strain differences. For both strains data sets with and without the presence of sorbic acid (250 ppm on product basis) were built. Incorporation of time as an exploratory variable in the models gave the possibility to predict the growth/no growth boundaries at each time between 0 and 90 days without decreasing the predictive power of the models. The influence of ethanol and aw on the growth/no growth boundary of Z. rouxii was most pronounced in the first 30 days and 60 days of incubation, respectively. The effect of pH was almost negligible in the range of 2.5-4.0. The presence of low levels of sorbic acid (250 ppm) eliminated growth of both strains at all conditions tested. The two strains tested have previously been shown to have similar tolerance towards the single stress factors included in the study, but when the stress factors were combined the two strains showed difference in their ability to grow illustrating the importance of including more strains when developing growth/no growth models. The developed models can be useful tools for development of new acidic sweet IMFs.
International Journal of Food Microbiology, 2015, Vol 192, p. 51-57