The survival of spore-forming bacteria is linked to the safety and stability of refrigerated processed foods of extended durability (REPFEDs). A probabilistic modeling approach was used to assess the prevalence and concentration of Bacillus cereus spores surviving heat treatment for a semiliquid chilled food product. This product received heat treatment to inactivate nonproteolytic Clostridium botulinum during manufacture and was designed to be kept at refrigerator temperature postmanufacture. As key inputs for the modeling, the assessment took into consideration the following factors: (i) contamination frequency (prevalence) and level (concentration) of both psychrotrophic and mesophilic strains of B. cereus, (ii) heat resistance of both types (expressed as decimal reduction times at 90°C), and (iii) intrapouch variability of thermal kinetics during heat processing (expressed as the time spent at 90°C). These three inputs were established as statistical distributions using expert opinion, literature data, and specific modeling, respectively. They were analyzed in a probabilistic model in which the outputs, expressed as distributions as well, were the proportion of the contaminated pouches (the likely prevalence) and the number of spores in the contaminated pouches (the likely concentration). The prevalence after thermal processing was estimated to be 11 and 49% for psychrotrophic and mesophilic strains, respectively. In the positive pouches, the bacterial concentration (considering psychrotrophic and mesophilic strains combined) was estimated to be 30 CFU/g (95th percentile). Such a probabilistic approach seems promising to help in (i) optimizing heat processes, (ii) identifying which key factor(s) to control, and (iii) providing information for subsequent assessment of B. cereus resuscitation and growth.

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