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Keywords:

  • maximum likelihood estimation;
  • risk assessment;
  • sample design

Abstract

Aims

The fitting of statistical distributions to microbial sampling data is a common application in quantitative microbiology and risk assessment applications. An underlying assumption of most fitting techniques is that data are collected with simple random sampling, which is often times not the case. This study develops a weighted maximum likelihood estimation framework that is appropriate for microbiological samples that are collected with unequal probabilities of selection.

Methods and Results

A weighted maximum likelihood estimation framework is proposed for microbiological samples that are collected with unequal probabilities of selection. Two examples, based on the collection of food samples during processing, are provided to demonstrate the method and highlight the magnitude of biases in the maximum likelihood estimator when data are inappropriately treated as a simple random sample.

Conclusions

Failure to properly weight samples to account for how data are collected can introduce substantial biases into inferences drawn from the data.

Significance and Impact of the Study

The proposed methodology will reduce or eliminate an important source of bias in inferences drawn from the analysis of microbial data. This will also make comparisons between studies and the combination of results from different studies more reliable, which is important for risk assessment applications.