As a student in food safety, you’ll learn about the different concepts underlying and influencing food quality. These include food sanitation, food processing, food inspection, and food infection. Professionals in the food safety industry use a variety of methods to ensure that food is safe to consume and free from contaminants.
The existence of microorganisms in food needs to be monitored and controlled. These naturally occurring living things are what cause food to spoil or become inedible, and their presence is affected by environmental factors in production, transportation, and storage. Predictive microbiology is a method that seeks to analyze and prolong shelf-life by looking at the behaviours of these organisms.
The Impacts of Microbiology on Food Safety
To understand the purpose of predictive microbiology, we’ll have to deconstruct its constituent parts. Predictive biology is concerned with preventing, controlling, or limiting the existence of microscopic small living organisms. For an organism to be microscopic means that it is impossible to see with the naked eye and can only be analyzed using microscopes or similar tools.
There are several different kinds of microorganisms:
These organisms, though tiny, aren’t unimportant. They make up 60% of all living matter, and play key roles in processes such as disease control, climate change, and biodegradation. What’s significant for those who are studying for a certificate in food safety is that they also influence food spoilage.
Modelling Microbiological Predictions for Students in a Food Safety Training Course
Microorganisms influence things relevant to food safety, like shelf-life and the sustainability of food production practices. Predictive microbiology is concerned with mapping out the potential responses of microorganisms to particular environmental conditions, such as:
- Water activity
Analyzing the behaviour of microorganisms is typically done through microbial testing in a laboratory setting. However, the growth, survival, or inactivation of microorganisms are largely reproducible responses. This means that it is possible to design models that predict how microorganisms will respond under certain conditions, which is where predictive microbiology comes in.
Predictive microbiology uses mathematical models built from laboratory and computer data that maps out these hypothetical reactions. These models can make the work of everyone in the food industry more efficient, from professionals in laboratories to students in a food safety training course.
Applications and Limitations of Predictive Microbiology
There is a growing international interest in predictive microbiology due to the ways in which it can cut costs and make room for new methods of food production and storage. Using these systems, food businesses can evaluate new recipes or new storage and transportation methods and identify those that will be safer and more stable. This can be an effective way to minimize lengthy and costly microbiological testing.
Since the inception of these quantitative models, interest has resulted in the appearance of several databases accessible to those in the field of food safety:
- ComBase started in the UK, and now integrates USDA and EU models of growth curves and survival/inactivation curves
- The Technical University of Denmark database is used as a food spoilage and safety predictor
- Computational Biology Premium is delivered through the Tasmania Institute of Agriculture, and delivers predictive models developed and validated in real commercial foods
However, the downside is that there may be occasion where these models aren’t accurate, due to inconsistent microbial responses. Predictive microbiology should never fully replace microbiological testing and should always be done under the supervision of a professional.
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