Although the mechanisms by which organic acids inhibit growth of bacteria in mildly acidic foods are not fully understood, it is clear that intracellular accumulation of anions is a primary contributor to inhibition of bacterial growth. We hypothesize that intracellular accumulation of anions is driven by 2 factors, external anion concentration and external acidity. This hypothesis follows from basic chemistry principles that heretofore have not been fully applied to studies in the field, and it has led us to develop a novel approach for predicting internal anion concentration by controlling the external concentration of anions and pH. This approach overcomes critical flaws in contemporary experimental design that invariably target concentration of either protonated acid or total acid in the growth media thereby leaving anion concentration to vary depending on the pKa of the acids involved. Failure to control external concentration of anions has undoubtedly confounded results, and it has likely led to misleading conclusions regarding the antimicrobial action of organic acids. In summary, we advocate an approach for directing internal anion levels by controlling external concentration of anions and pH because it presents an additional opportunity to study the mechanisms by which organic acids inhibit bacterial growth. Knowledge gained from such studies would have important application in the control of important foodborne pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, and may also facilitate efforts to promote the survival in foods or beverages of desirable probiotic bacteria.
External concentration of organic acid anions and pH: key independent variables for studying how organic acids inhibit growth of bacteria in mildly acidic foodsJournal of Food Science
Citation InformationCarpenter, C. E., and J. R. Broadbent. 2009. External concentration of organic acid anions and pH: key independent variables for studying how organic acids inhibit growth of bacteria in mildly acidic foods. J. Food Sci. 74:R12-R15.