Accounting for inherent variability of growth in microbial risk assessment.


Risk assessments of pathogens need to account for the growth of small number of cells under varying conditions. In order to determine the possible risks that occur when there are small numbers of cells, stochastic models of growth are needed that would capture the distribution of the number of cells over replicate trials of the same scenario or environmental conditions. This paper provides a simple stochastic growth model, accounting only for inherent cell-growth variability, assuming constant growth kinetic parameters, for an initial, small, numbers of cells assumed to be transforming from a stationary to an exponential phase. Two, basic, microbial sets of assumptions are considered: serial, where it is assume that cells transform through a lag phase before entering the exponential phase of growth; and parallel, where it is assumed that lag and exponential phases develop in parallel. The model is based on, first determining the distribution of the time when growth commences, and then modelling the conditional distribution of the number of cells. For the latter distribution, it is found that a Weibull distribution provides a simple approximation to the conditional distribution of the relative growth, so that the model developed in this paper can be easily implemented in risk assessments using commercial software packages.