The prophage-encoded staphylococcal enterotoxin A (SEA) is recognized as the main cause of staphylococcal food poisoning (SFP), a common foodborne intoxication disease, caused by Staphylococcus aureus
. Studies on the production of SEA suggest that activation of the SOS response and subsequent prophage induction affect the regulation of the sea
gene and the SEA produced, increasing the risk for SFP. The present study aims to evaluate the effect of NaCl and sorbic acid, in concentrations relevant to food production, on SOS response activation, prophage induction and SEA production. The impact of stress was initially evaluated on steady state cells for a homogenous cell response. NaCl 2% was found to activate the SOS response, i.e
expression, and trigger prophage induction, in a similar way as the phage-inducer mitomycin C. In contrast, sorbic acid decreased the pH of the culture to a level where prophage induction was probably suppressed, even when combined with NaCl stress. The impact of previous physiological state of the bacteria was also addressed on cells pre-exposed to NaCl, and was found to potentially affect cell response upon exposure to further stress. The results obtained highlight the possible SFP-related risks arising from the use of preservatives during food processing.
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