Great uncertainty exists in conducting dose-response assessment for microbial pathogens. The data to support quantitative modeling of dose-response relationships are meager. Our philosophy in developing methodology to conduct microbial risk assessments has been to rely on data analysis and formal inferencing from the available data in constructing dose-response and exposure models. The probability of illness is a complex function of factors associated with the disease triangle: the host, the pathogen, and the environment including the food vehicle and indigenous microbial competitors. The epidemiological triangle and interactions between the components of the triangle are used to illustrate key issues in dose-response modeling that impact the estimation of risk and attendant uncertainty. Distinguishing between uncertainty (what is unknown) and variability (heterogeneity) is crucial in risk assessment. Uncertainty includes components that are associated with (i) parameter estimation for a given assumed model, and (ii) the unknown "true" model form among many plausible alternatives such as the exponential, Beta-Poisson, probit, logistic, and Gompertz. Uncertainty may be grossly understated if plausible alternative models are not tested in the analysis. Examples are presented of the impact of variability and uncertainty on species, strain, or serotype of microbial pathogens; variability in human response to administered doses of pathogens; and effects of threshold and nonthreshold models. Some discussion of the usefulness and limitations of epidemiological data is presented. Criteria for development of surrogate dose-response models are proposed for pathogens for which human data are lacking. Alternative dose-response models which consider biological plausibility are presented for predicting the probability of illness.