Development of a Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment Model for Foodborne E. coli O157:H7 Infection: The Risk of Consuming Lettuce
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The current study used a probabilistic Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) framework to describe the change of E. coli O157:H7 concentration in lettuce through a foodborne pathway, to develop a predictive model for risk estimation for E. coli O157:H7 infection associated with lettuce. The model consisted of a series of pathogen-associated events including initial contamination, growth during cooling, cold storage and distribution, disinfection (chlorine, gaseous chlorine dioxide and gamma irradiation), and dose response after consumption. A modified Baranyi growth model was proposed which described the initial physiological state of E. coli O157:H7 as a function of the initial temperature. The modified Baranyi growth model was used to predict E. coli O157:H7 growth under realistic time-temperature profiles, accounting for the time dynamics of temperature fluctuation. The risk assessment model was constructed in an Excel spreadsheet and Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis was simulated using Crystal Ball. The results in the current study showed that temperature control was the key measure for minimizing the risk of E. coli O157:H7 infection associated with lettuce. Disinfecting contaminated lettuce using the hypothetical methods examined in the study had limited effectiveness in risk reduction. Temperature abuse occurring before or after the hypothetical disinfections significantly diminished the disinfection effect and contributed to increased risk. Of all simulated scenarios, the lowest risk was associated with adequate temperature control and irradiation (44 infections per 1000 consumptions [95%: 94 infection per 1,000 consumption; 5%: 5 infections per 1,000 consumption]). The model can be used to explore the public health impact of other potential strategies that can be adopted to minimize the risk of E. coli O157:H7, while taking into account the possible amplification of pathogen through the food chain.