Characterization and exposure assessment of emetic bacillus cereus and cereulide production in food products on the Dutch market

Elisabeth G. Biesta-Peters*, Serge Dissel, Martine W. Reij, Marcel H. Zwietering, Paul H. In't Veld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


The emetic toxin cereulide, which can be produced by Bacillus cereus, can be the cause of food poisoning upon ingestion by the consumer. The toxin causes vomiting and is mainly produced in farinaceous food products. This article includes the prevalence of B. cereus and of cereulide in food products in The Netherlands, a characterization of B. cereus isolates obtained, cereulide production conditions, and a comparison of consumer exposure estimates with those of a previous exposure assessment. Food samples (n=1,489) were tested for the presence of B. cereus; 5.4% of the samples contained detectable levels (>102 CFU/ g), and 0.7% contained levels above 105 CFU/g. Samples (n=3,008) also were tested for the presence of cereulide. Two samples (0.067%) contained detectable levels of cereulide at 3.2 and 5.4 μg/kg of food product. Of the 481 tested isolates, 81 produced cereulide and/or contained the ces gene. None of the starch-positive and hbl-containing isolates possessed the ces gene, whereas all strains contained the nhe genes. Culture of emetic B. cereus under nonoptimal conditions revealed a delay in onset of cereulide production compared with culture under optimal conditions, and cereulide was produced in all cases when B. cereus cells had been in the stationary phase for some time. The prevalence of cereulide-contaminated food approached the prevalence of contaminated products estimated in an exposure assessment. The main food safety focus associated with this pathogen should be to prevent germination and growth of any B. cereus present in food products and thus prevent cereulide production in foods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-238
JournalJournal of Food Protection
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • Bacilli
  • Emetic toxin
  • Food poisoning
  • Prevalence
  • Production kinetics


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