Do microbial interactions and cultivation media decrease the accuracy of Salmonella surveillance systems and outbreak investigations?

Singer RS, Mayer AE, Hanson TE, Isaacson RE

Cultivation methods are commonly used in Salmonella surveillance systems and outbreak investigations, and consequently, conclusions about Salmonella evolution and transmission are highly dependent on the performance characteristics of these methods. Past studies have shown that Salmonella serotypes can exhibit different growth characteristics in the same enrichment and selective media. This could lead not only to biased conclusions about the dominant strain present in a sample with mixed Salmonella populations, but also to a low sensitivity for detecting a Salmonella strain in a sample with only a single strain present. The objective of this study was to determine whether cultivation media select preferentially for specific strains of Salmonella in heterogeneous cultures. In this study, four different Salmonella strains (one Salmonella Newport, two Salmonella Typhimurium, and one Salmonella Enteritidis) were competed in a broth-based experiment and a bovine fecal experiment with varied combinations and concentrations of each strain. In all experiments, the strain of Salmonella Newport was the most competitive, regardless of the starting concentration and cultivation protocol. One strain of Salmonella Typhimurium was rarely detected in competition, even when it was the only strain present in bovine feces. Overall, the probability of detecting a specific Salmonella strain had little to do with its starting concentration in the sample. The bias introduced by culture could be dramatically biasing Salmonella surveillance systems and hindering traceback investigations during Salmonella outbreaks. Future studies should focus on the microbiological explanations for this Salmonella interstrain variability, approaches for minimizing the bias, and estimations of the public health significance of this bias.

Journal of Food Protection 72:707-713