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Next Generation of Microbiological Risk Assessment: Potential of Omics Data for Exposure Assessment


This paper belongs to a series of four publications prepared after the workshop on ‘Next Generation MRA (Microbiological Risk Assessment): Integration of Omics Data into Assessment’ celebrated in Athens in 2016 in collaboration with IAFP and ICFMH.

In food safety and public health risk evaluations, microbiological exposure assessment plays a central role as it provides an estimation of both the likelihood and the level of the microbial hazard in a specified consumer portion of food and takes microbial behaviour into account. While until now mostly phenotypic data have been used in exposure assessment, mechanistic cellular information, obtained using omics techniques, will enable the fine tuning of exposure assessments to move towards the next generation of microbiological risk assessment. In particular, metagenomics can help in characterizing the food and factory environment microbiota (endogenous microbiota and potentially pathogens) and the changes over time under the environmental conditions associated with processing, preservation and storage. The difficulty lies in moving up to a quantitative exposure assessment, because the development of models that enable the prediction of dynamics of pathogens in a complex food ecosystem is still in its infancy in the food safety domain. In addition, collecting and storing the environmental data (metadata) required to inform the models has not yet been organised at a large scale. In contrast, progress in biomarker identification and characterization has already opened the possibility of making qualitative or even quantitative connection between process and formulation conditions and microbial responses at the strain level. In term of modelling approaches, without changing radically the usual model structure, changes in model inputs are expected: instead of (or as well as) building models upon phenotypic characteristics such as for example minimal temperature where growth is expected, exposure assessment models could use biomarker response intensity as inputs. These new generations of strain-level models will bring an added value in predicting the variability in pathogen behaviour. Altogether, these insights based upon omics techniques will increase our (quantitative) knowledge on pathogenic strains and consequently will reduce our uncertainty; the exposure assessment of a specific combination of pathogen and food will be then more accurate. This progress will benefit the whole community of safety assessors and research scientists from academia, regulatory agencies and industry.

The paper is available here as open access.

For more information please visit the Microbiological Food Safety Task Force webpage.