The Development of a Qualitative Risk Assessment and Targeted Storage Decline Kinetics Data as Critical Components for Developing a Full Quantitative Risk Assessment of Salmonella Contamination in Milk Chocolate
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Salmonella enterica infections and outbreaks have been associated with chocolate consumption over the last four decades. The source of contamination for these occasional salmonellosis outbreaks are often unidentified, and typically the level of contamination is only a few salmonellae per serving. The main goals of this dissertation were to collate relevant scientific information regarding microbial safety of milk chocolate, conduct a qualitative assessment of risk factors for Salmonella contamination encountered during the complex processes of cocoa bean cultivation and the subsequent process of milk chocolate manufacturing, and to generate targeted data and survival models for kinetics of Salmonella stored in milk chocolate crumb; all components critical to the development of a stochastic quantitative microbial risk assessment.
The farm-to-packaging qualitative assessment provided categorizations of risk for relevant activities and ingredients, identified critical data gaps and “risk spots” and culminated in an Excel-based risk rating tool used to illustrate the usability of the qualitative assessment. Results indicate an overall low residual risk of Salmonella contamination of a packaged milk chocolate product for a base model, provided dictates of process control measures are rigorously adhered to, and the risk rating tool enables the assessment of what-if scenarios for deviations from optimal practices.
One of the data gaps identified in the qualitative risk assessment led to investigation into the use of milk chocolate crumb, an intermediate product during milk chocolate processing, and its potential association with Salmonella risk. Evaluation of the survival kinetics of S. enterica in milk crumb showed a significant (p<0.05) dependence of survival on storage temperature, strain and crumb type. Due to the manner in which crumb is generally utilized during milk chocolate processing, findings from this study are the first to link the use of crumb and Salmonella risk, and presents promising opportunities for risk reduction which can be explored through further research into optimization of crumb storage parameters. This study serves as a valuable resource to food safety stakeholders in the chocolate industry as it builds the foundation and provides much-needed data for a quantitative microbial risk assessment model that can be used to optimize food safety control programs.