International journal of food microbiology vol:25 issue:3 pages:227-249
The main factors influencing the microbial stability of chilled prepared food products — for which there is an increased consumer interest — are temperature, pH and water activity. Unlike the pH and the water activity, the temperature may vary extensively throughout the complete production and distribution chain.
The shelf life of this kind of foods is usually limited due to spoilage by common microorganisms, and the increased risk for food pathogens. In predicting the shelf life, mathematical models are a powerful tool to increase the insight in the different subprocesses and their interactions. However, the predictive value of the sigmoidal functions reported in the literature to describe a bacterial growth curve as an explicit function of time is only guaranteed at a constant temperature within the temperature range of microbial growth. As a result, they are less appropriate in optimization studies of a whole production and distribution chain.
In this paper a more general modeling approach, inspired by system theory concepts, is presented if for instance time varying temperature profiles are to be taken into account. As a case study, we discuss a recently proposed dynamic model to predict microbial growth and inactivation under time varying temperature conditions from a system theory point of view. Further, the validity of this methodology is illustrated with experimental data of Brochothrix thermosphacta and Lactobacillus plantarum. Finally, we propose some possible refinements of this model inspired by experimental results.