According to the World Health Organization estimates in 2015, 600 million people fall ill every year from contaminated food and 420,000 die. Microbial risk assessment (MRA) was developed as a tool to reduce and prevent risks presented by pathogens and/or their toxins. MRA is organized in four steps to analyse information and assist in both designing appropriate control options and implementation of regulatory decisions and programs. Among the four steps, hazard characterisation is performed to establish the probability and severity of a disease outcome, which is determined as function of the dose of toxin and/or pathogen ingested. This dose-response relationship is subject to both variability and uncertainty. The purpose of this review/opinion article is to discuss how Next Generation Omics can impact hazard characterisation and, more precisely, how it can improve our understanding of variability and limit the uncertainty in the dose-response relation. The expansion of omics tools (e.g. genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics) allows for a better understanding of pathogenicity mechanisms and virulence levels of bacterial strains. Detection and identification of virulence genes, comparative genomics, analyses of mRNA and protein levels and the development of biomarkers can help in building a mechanistic dose-response model to predict disease severity. In this respect, systems biology can help to identify critical system characteristics that confer virulence and explain variability between strains. Despite challenges in the integration of omics into risk assessment, some omics methods have already been used by regulatory agencies for hazard identification. Standardized methods, reproducibility and datasets obtained from realistic conditions remain a challenge, and are needed to improve accuracy of hazard characterisation. When these improvements are realized, they will allow the health authorities and government policy makers to prioritize hazards more accurately and thus refine surveillance programs with the collaboration of all stakeholders of the food chain.
- Food safety
- Functional genomics
- Public health
- Quantitative transcriptomics and proteomics
- Risk analysis