Heat treatments are widely used in food processing often with the aim of reducing or eliminating spoilage microorganisms and pathogens in food products. The efficacy of applying heat to control microorganisms is challenged by the natural diversity of microorganisms with respect to their heat robustness. This review gives an overview of the variations in heat resistances of various species and strains, describes modeling approaches to quantify heat robustness, and addresses the relevance and impact of the natural diversity of microorganisms when assessing heat inactivation. This comparison of heat resistances of microorganisms facilitates the evaluation of which (groups of) organisms might be troublesome in a production process in which heat treatment is critical to reducing the microbial contaminants, and also allows fine-tuning of the process parameters. Various sources of microbiological variability are discussed and compared for a range of species, including spore-forming and non-spore-forming pathogens and spoilage organisms. This benchmarking of variability factors gives crucial information about the most important factors that should be included in risk assessments to realistically predict heat inactivation of bacteria and spores as part of the measures for controlling shelf life and safety of food products.


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