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Heterotrophic Plate Count
Heterotrophic plate count (HPC), also known as Standard Plate Count is used to
determine the presence of heterotrophs in microbial isolates by measuring colony formation on
culture media. Although the majority of these organisms do not present a health risk to
immunocompetent individuals, some of the bacteria present may be opportunistic pathogens
which are mainly associated with nosocomial infections.
HPC is a good technique in measuring the overall bacteriological quality of the sample. It
is a valuable tool to assess microbial density of chopping boards of Miag-ao Public Market. A
value of 5.0 x 10
to 1.0 X 10
CFU ml
is the HPC value considered safe according to
international standards and we should take into account that all samples obtained have values
above 1.0 X 10
CFU ml
1(Reasoner, 1990). However, this value is only applicable for drinking
water since microbial density in food are log concentration higher (Wadhwa et al., in press.
Wadhwa et al (in press) concluded that high HPC values for food or surfaces where food is
prepared has a higher health risk than that of drinking water.
A high heterotrophic plate count signifies that the area wherein the samples were taken
from has poor sanitation and that proper hygiene management is not maintained. Also, the
presence of high microbial density in chopping boards indicate the poor infrastructure of shops
such as poor drainage, differentiation between clean and unclean operations, keeping more than
two kinds of meats in a shop without proper separation of meat areas in the shops and by a
constant flow of contamination from the unsuitable floors of the shops. In addition, the chopping
boards used in Miag-ao Public Market have rough, porous wooden surfaces that play a role in
harboring and multiplying the organism. In fact, proper cleaning and disinfection of the wooden
chopping boards are not possible for the shops personnel. This poses a great health risk since the
microorganisms found on the chopping boards can easily contaminate the meat through surface
contact. This is a great public health concern since meats that are for domestic consumption are
chopped in these boards.
However, the results obtained using an HPC test are not an accurate assessment of total
heterotrophic concentrations but are indications of cultrable organisms present. It should be
considered that only 1% of the total bacteria found using direct microscopy are enumerated using
HPC procedures. Possible explanations for this difference include the presence of some bacteria
in a viable but non-culturable state and the fact that HPC media do not provide the complex
nutritional requirements necessary for the growth of all heterotrophs. Therefore, there is a
possibility that the HPC values obtained during laboratory analysis do not reflect the total
bacterial density found on the chopping boards but rather only provides an index for assessing
the presence of heterotrophs. Since Heterotrophic Plate Count is not a very accurate technique,
further examinations should be done for a better assessment of the situation.
Heterotrophic plate count bacteria—what is their significance
in drinking water?$
Martin J. Allena,*, Stephen C. Edbergb
, Donald J. Reasonerc
Reasoner, D.R., 1990. Monitoring heterotrophic bacteria in potable
water. In: McFeters, G.A. (Ed.), Drinking Water Microbiol-
ogy—Progress and Recent Developments. Springer-Verlag,
New York, pp. 452–477.
Wadhwa, S.G., Khaled, G.H., Edberg, S.C., 2002. Comparative
microbial character of consumed food and drinking water. Crit-
ical Review in Microbiology 28, 249–279.