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Clostridium botulinum can grow and form toxin at pH values lower than 4.6


It is generally accepted1 that in Clostridium botulinum both growth and toxin formation are completely inhibited at pH values below 4.6. This critical pH value has been confirmed by many investigators using food as substrate2–5 or culture media3,6–8. Occasionally9–12 growth of C. botulinum and toxin formation at pH values lower than 4.6 have been reported. In these cases the authors ascribed the unexpected outgrowth and toxin formation to local pH differences in inhomogeneous media and growth of C. botulinum before pH equilibration, or to the fact that fungi created microenvironments within or adjacent to the mycelial mat, where the pH was higher than 4.6 as was demonstrated by Odlaug and Pflug11,12. We show here that the general assumption that C. botulinum does not grow below pH 4.6 is incorrect. We have observed that growth and toxin formation by C. botulinum can take place in homogeneous protein rich substrates (containing 3% or more soya or milk protein) at pH values lower than 4.6.

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Raatjes, G., Smelt, J. Clostridium botulinum can grow and form toxin at pH values lower than 4.6. Nature 281, 398–399 (1979).

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