Inoculum Size Influences Bacterial Cross Contamination between Surfaces

R. Montville, D. W. Schaffner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Many factors have been shown to influence bacterial transfer between surfaces, including surface type, bacterial species, moisture level, pressure, and friction, but the effect of inoculum size on bacterial transfer has not yet been established. Bacterial cross contamination rates during performance of common food service tasks were previously determined in our laboratory using nalidixic acid-resistant Enterobacter aerogenes. Eight different transfer rates were determined, each involving a minimum of 30 volunteers. The influence of source inoculum level on the percentage of bacteria transferred (percent transfer rates) and log10 CFU per recipient surface was determined using statistical analysis. The effect of inoculum size on transfer rate was highly statistically significant (P < 0.0001) for all transfer rate data combined (352 observations) and for each individual cross contamination rate, except for data on contamination via transfer from chicken to hand through a glove barrier (P = 0.1643). Where inoculum size on the source was greater, transfer rates were lower, and where inoculum size on the source was less, transfer rates were higher. The negative linear trend was more obvious for activities that had a larger range of inoculum sizes on the source surface. This phenomenon has serious implications for research seeking to determine bacterial cross contamination rates, since the different transfer efficiencies that were previously shown to be associated with certain activities may actually be the result of differing initial inoculum levels. The initial inoculum size on the source and the amount of bacteria transferred must both be considered to accurately determine bacterial transfer rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7188-7193
Number of pages6
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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