Challenge Test as Special Tool to Estimate the Dynamic of Listeria monocytogenes and Other Foodborne Pathogens

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Over 23 million cases of foodborne disease (FBD) occur in Europe each year, with over 4700 deaths. Outbreaks of FBD have a significant impact on our society due to the high economic losses they cause (hospital treatment of affected patients and destruction of contaminated food). Among its health objectives, the European Union has set itself the goal of reducing the incidence of the main FBDs, approving various regulations that codify requirements in order to produce food that is “safe” for human consumption. Among these rules, Regulation 2005/2073 establishes precise food safety criteria for foods that are judged to be most at risk of causing episodes of FBD. The food business operator (FBO) must know their food better and know how to estimate whether a food can support the growth of food pathogens or if they are able to hinder it during the food’s shelf life. It is becoming crucial for each FBO to schedule specific laboratory tests (challenge tests) to establish the growth potential of individual pathogens and their maximum growth rate. In 2008 the European Union published the guidelines for programming the challenge tests for Listeria monocytogenes in RTE foods. These guidelines were further implemented in 2014 and again in 2019. In June 2019 the UNI EN ISO 20976-1 was published, which contains indications for setting up and carrying out challenge tests for all foodborne pathogens in all foods. In this article, we compare the three official documents to highlight their common aspects and differences, highlighting the advantages and disadvantages that each of them offers for those who have to set up a challenge test for the various foodborne pathogens. Our conclusion is that the challenge test is today the most effective tool to estimate the dynamics and growth potential of pathogenic microorganisms in food, if it is designed and implemented in a scrupulous way. It is important to develop a rational experimental design for each challenge test, and for each food, and this requires professionals who are experts in this specific field of study and who must be properly trained.