The viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state is defined as an adaptive mechanism for microorganisms adjusting to stressful conditions. Although VBNC bacteria are alive and metabolically active, they are unable to grow on routine culture media. Nevertheless, the potential capacity of VBNC pathogens to retain virulence activity and further resuscitate into the culturable state in favorable conditions constitutes a major hazard to food safety and public health. Food processing, transformation, and storage, as well as non-thermal techniques, can provoke pathogens toward VBNC induction. The distinct characteristic of VBNC bacteria led to the emergence of novel culture-independent techniques to prevent the misinterpretation of food safety. To deepen our knowledge of the molecular aspect of the VBNC state, several mechanism-oriented studies investigated the metabolic activity of VBNC bacteria and their correlation with different stressful conditions. This review aims to discuss the molecular mechanisms and genomic factors underlying the induction and resuscitation of the VBNC state. The study will further highlight innovative detection methods to provide a comprehensive perspective for future studies in the emerging fields of research concerning VBNC state, food safety, and public health.
Keywords: VBNC, Food safety, Public health, Waterborne pathogen, Foodborne bacteria