Microbiological and process variability using biological indicators of inactivation (BIIs) based on Bacillus cereus spores of food and fish-based animal by-products to evaluate microwave heating in a pilot plant

Alberto Garre, Alejandro Acosta, Juan D. Reverte-Orts, Paula M. Periago, Alejandro Díaz-Morcillo, Arturo Esnoz, Juan L. Pedreño-Molina, Pablo S. Fernández

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Microwave processing can be a valid alternative to conventional heating for different types of products. It enables a more efficient heat transfer in the food matrix, resulting in higher quality products. However, for many food products a uniform temperature distribution is not possible because of heterogeneities in their physical properties and non-uniformtiy in the electric field pattern. Hence, the effectiveness of microwave inactivation treatments is influenced by both intrinsic (differences between cells) and extrinsic variability (non-uniform temperature). Interpreting the results of the process and considering its impact on microbial inactivation is essential to ensure effective and efficient processing.
In this work, we quantified the variability in microbial inactivation attained in a microwave pasteurization treatment with a tunnel configuration at pilot-plant scale. The configuration of the equipment makes it impossible to measure the product temperature during treatment. For that reason, variability in microbial counts was measured using Biological Inactivation Indicators (BIIs) based on spherical particles of alginate inoculated with spores of Bacillus spp. The stability of the BIIs and the uncertainty associated to them was assessed using preliminary experiments in a thermoresistometer. Then, they were introduced in the food product to analyse the microbial inactivation in different points of the products during the microwave treatment. Experiments were
made in a vegetable soup and a fish-based animal by-product (F-BP).
The results show that the variation in the microbial counts was higher than expected based on the biological variability estimated in the thermoresistometer and the uncertainty of the BIIs. This is due to heterogeneities in the temperature field (measured using a thermographic camera), which were higher in the F-BP than in the vegetable soup. Therefore, for the process studied, extrinsic variability was more relevant than intrinsic variability. The methodology presented in this work can be a valid method to evaluate pasteurization treatments of foods processed by heating, providing valuable information of the microbial inactivation achieved. It can contribute to design microwave processes for different types of products and for product optimization.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109640
Number of pages10
JournalFood Research International
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological validation
  • Bacillus cereus
  • Biological variability
  • Microwave heating
  • Cavity design
  • Microbial inactivation
  • Animal by-products

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