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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Food Science

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Bacillus cereus is a ubiquitous organism and a potential foodborne pathogen that can cause two types of gastrointestinal diseases: emesis and diarrhea. The emetic syndrome is caused by a heat and acid stable peptide toxin that is pre-formed in food, while the diarrheal syndrome is associated to two 3-protein, heat labile enterotoxin complexes that are formed in the intestine after ingestion of the organism. There are many reports on the isolation and characterization of Bacillus cereus from various foods, however there are no studies on the levels, toxigenicity and physical characteristics of B. cereus isolated from U.S. retail spices. A huge part of spices sold in the U.S. are imported from developing nations. Developing nations lack hygienic practices during processing and packaging of spices, due to which there is a high chance of imported spices being contaminated with B. cereus. Therefore, the main objective of this thesis work was to characterize B. cereus spores from U.S. retail spices. Levels of aerobic spores and B. cereus spores were determined. B. cereus spores were further analyzed for their enterotoxigenic ability, growth characteristics and physical spore characteristics.

In the 247 spice samples analyzed 77 were found to contain B. cereus, while 11 were positive for B. thuringiensis. Eighty four of the 88 spices tested possessed either one of the enterotoxin genes. None of the isolates tested positive for the emetic toxin (ces) gene. Seventy five of the B. cereus isolates grew at 12 °C, although only two isolates grew well at 9 °C.

Seven selected diarrheal B. cereus spore strains had D95-values ranging from 0.64-3.53 min while the two emetic strains had D95-values of 7.04 min and 6.64 min. B. cereus grew well in pre-cooked rice. After 48 h, counts of 1.26 X 107 and 3.8 X 107 B. cereus/ 10 g were obtained in pre-cooked rice maintained at 17 °C and 20 °C respectively. At 12 °C, counts did not reach 104 CFU/ 10g even after 48 h of incubation. The aerobic mesophilic bacterial population and B. cereus population of 0.1% crushed pepper in pre-cooked rice over a period of 48h at temperature 20 °C and 17 °C were also analyzed. Counts of B. cereus in pepper rice samples reached a maximum of 1600 MPN/ 10 g and 1100 MPN/ 10 g at 20 °C and 17 °C respectively while the aerobic mesophilic counts per 10 g were 2.4 X 108 and 4.4 X 106 at these temperatures. The low B. cereus counts and high aerobic mesophilic population indicates competition of nutrients in cooked rice by background flora other than B. cereus.

The physical spore characteristics of five B. cereus and 3 B. thuringiensis strains were studied using transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Tubular, whip-like appendages were present in four B. cereus and two B. thuringiensis, while all seven isolates possessed exosporia.


First Advisor

Ronald G. Labbe