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Risk Assessment of Listeria monocytogenes: Impact of Individual Cell Variability on the Exposure Assessment Step

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Recently, the lag phase research in predictive microbiology is focusing more on the individual cell variability, especially for pathogenic microorganisms that typically occur in very low contamination levels, like Listeria monocytogenes. In this study, the effect of this individual cell lag phase variability was introduced in an exposure assessment study for L. monocytogenes in a liver pâté. A basic framework was designed to estimate the contamination level of pâté at the time of consumption, taking into account the frequency of contamination and the initial contamination levels of pâté at retail. Growth was calculated on pâté units of 150 g, comparing an individual-based approach with a classical population-based approach. The two different protocols were compared using simulations. If only the individual cell lag variability was taken into account, important differences were observed in cell density at the time of consumption between the individual-based approach and the classical approach, especially at low inoculum levels, resulting in high variability when using the individual-based approach. Although, when all variable factors were taken into account, no significant differences were observed between the different approaches, allowing the conclusion that the individual cell lag phase variability was overruled by the global variability of the exposure assessment framework. Even in more extreme conditions like a low inoculum level or a low water activity, no differences were created in cell density at the time of consumption between the individual-based approach and the classical approach. This means that the individual cell lag phase variability of L. monocytogenes has important consequences when studying specific growth cases, especially when the applied inoculum levels are low, but when performing more general exposure assessment studies, the variability between the individual cell lag phases is too limited to have a major impact on the total exposure assessment.
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Keywords: Exposure assessment; Listeria monocytogenes; individual cell variability; lag phase; predictive microbiology; risk analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Laboratory of Food Microbiology and Food Preservation, Department of Food Safety and Food Quality, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.

Publication date: 2006-02-01

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