Basic Microbiology for Food Safety Managers


  1. Introduction
    • Microbiology and Food Safety
  2. Microbial Growth Curve
  3. Factors Affecting Microbial Growth in Food
    • Extrinsic factors
    • Intrinsic factors

1. Introduction

Microbiological hazards are the single greatest cause of foodborne illness. They are also some of the most difficult hazards to risk assess given their diversity and dynamic nature. New and emerging microbial hazards present a particular threat to public health and the food industry must continually take account of this in the development of control programs both at an international, national and plant level.

Most food safety managers will find themselves at some point developing HACCP plans which require them to identify and profile a range of hazards including microbiological hazards. Unless the manager has studied the field in some detail it can often be difficult to identify and characterise the risks posed. A basic understanding of food microbiology is essential to produce robust and effective HACCP plans. Consulting a food microbiologist is always recommended for validating HACCP plans however it is still important to understand and correctly interpret the information provided from such sources.

In order to assist our customers we have produced a series of three whitepapers focusing on food microbiology and how it relates practically to food safety and its management in a food production environment. The three papers are:

  • Basic Food Microbiology for Food Safety Managers
  • Treatment and Preservation Methods in Food Production
  • Microbiological Hazards in Food Safety

This first Whitepaper has been developed to provide food safety managers responsible for food safety systems in a processing plant acquire a basic knowledge of food microbiology and to underscore the learning of those who have previously covered it during their education. It is not intended to be a complete representation of the subject which is vast and constantly changing. Nor should it replace detailed examination of pathogenic hazards required as part of HACCP studies. This whitepaper should be read in conjunction with our whitepaper on Microbiological Risk Assessment.

1.1 Microbiology and Food Safety

Microbiology is the science that studies living organisms that cannot be seen with the naked eye. A microscope is the only way to view the millions of tiny creatures living in our environment. While they often play a beneficial role in human health and food production they can also cause disease (pathogens). Whether the microorganism is harmful or beneficial, it needs favorable conditions to grow. Conditions vary with the type of microbe:

  • Temperature
  • pH (acidity versus alkalinity)
  • Food
  • Moisture
  • Oxygen (for certain bacteria)

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