USA – In a breakthrough that could redefine food safety protocols, University of Arkansas researchers have proposed a new method for calculating the final kill ratio of pathogens in food processing, based on a sliding risk scale.

Dr. Jeyam Subbiah, Head of the Food Science department, highlighted this innovative approach, emphasizing its potential to balance bacterial reduction and product quality preservation.

The new method estimates the kill ratio distribution, allowing food processors to choose different levels of pathogen reduction based on acceptable risk levels.

For instance, achieving a 1% risk level would necessitate a 9-log reduction of a surrogate organism, corresponding to a 99.9999999% reduction.

A 5% risk level would require an 8-log reduction, while a 10% risk level would call for a 6.5-log reduction of the surrogate. This 6.5-log reduction is considered equivalent to a 12-log reduction of the actual pathogen.

Dr. Subbiah explained that a 12-log reduction is typically equated with sterilization, ensuring all microbial life forms are eliminated. On the other hand, a 4- to 5-log reduction is sufficient for pasteurization, which significantly reduces the number of viable pathogens but does not achieve total sterility.

Balancing bacterial reduction and product quality

This risk-based approach allows processors to tailor their microbial reduction strategies to specific needs and product types.

By adjusting the log reduction based on the desired risk level, processors can effectively manage food safety without compromising the quality of their products.

Dr. Subbiah noted that this method offers a practical solution for the food industry.

“It strikes a balance between killing harmful bacteria and preserving quality,” he said.

This balance is crucial, as overly aggressive sterilization processes can adversely affect the taste, texture, and nutritional value of food products.

Implications for food safety standards

The adoption of this sliding scale method could lead to significant changes in food safety standards and regulations.

By providing a more flexible and precise means of ensuring microbial safety, this approach can help processors optimize their operations, reduce waste, and improve the overall safety and quality of food products.

This method aligns with the increasing emphasis on risk-based food safety management systems, which prioritize interventions based on the actual risk posed by pathogens in specific contexts.

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