Quantitative risk assessment for Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ground beef hamburgers

Int J Food Microbiol. 1998 May 5;41(1):21-44. doi: 10.1016/s0168-1605(98)00028-2.


Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA) is a methodology used to organize and analyze scientific information to estimate the probability and severity of an adverse event. Applied to microbial food safety, the methodology can also help to identify those stages in the manufacture, distribution, handling, and consumption of foods that contribute to an increased risk of foodborne illness, and help focus resources and efforts to most effectively reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens. The term Process Risk Model (PRM) is introduced in this paper to describe the integration and application of QRA methodology with scenario analysis and predictive microbiology to provide an objective assessment of the hygienic characteristics of a manufacturing process. The methodology was applied to model the human health risk associated with Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ground beef hamburgers. The PRM incorporated two mathematical submodels; the first was intended to described the behaviour of the pathogen from the production of the food through processing, handling, and consumption to predict human exposure. The exposure estimate was then used as input to a dose-response model to estimate the health risk associated with consuming food from the process. Monte Carlo simulation was used to assess the effect of the uncertainty and variability in the model parameters on the predicted human health risk. The model predicted a probability of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome of 3.7 x 10(-6) and a probability of mortality of 1.9 x 10(-7) per meal for the very young. These estimates are likely high for all hamburger meals, but may be reasonable for the home-prepared hamburgers described by this model. The efficacy of three risk mitigation strategies were evaluated by modifying the values of the predictive factors and comparing the new predicted risk. The average probability of illness was predicted to be reduced by 80% under a hypothetical mitigation strategy directed at reducing microbial growth during retail storage through a reduction in storage temperature. This strategy was predicted to be more effective than a hypothetical intervention which estimated a plausible reduction in the concentration of E. coli O157:H7 in the feces of cattle shedding the pathogen and one aimed at convincing consumers to cook hamburgers more thoroughly. The conclusions of this approach are only accurate to the extent that the model accurately represents the process. Currently, uncertainty and ignorance about the hygienic effects of the individual operations during production, processing, and handling limit the applicability of a PRM to specify HACCP criteria in a quantitative manner. However, with continuous improvement through stimulated research, a PRM should encompass all available information about the process, food, and pathogen and should be the most appropriate decision-support tool since it represents current knowledge.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Computer Simulation
  • Escherichia coli Infections / epidemiology
  • Escherichia coli Infections / prevention & control*
  • Escherichia coli O157 / growth & development*
  • Escherichia coli O157 / pathogenicity
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Food Handling / methods*
  • Food Handling / standards
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Food-Processing Industry / standards
  • Foodborne Diseases / epidemiology
  • Foodborne Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Hemolytic-Uremic Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Hemolytic-Uremic Syndrome / mortality
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Meat / microbiology*
  • Meat / standards
  • Models, Biological*
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Prevalence
  • Probability
  • Risk Assessment