First UK Food Safety Research Network projects funded to deliver safer foods

20th December 2022

The first projects to be funded by the UK Food Safety Research Network (FSRN) have been selected to address real-world challenges to food safety.

Six projects will receive £30,000-£62,000 of funding from the network. These projects were all selected as ready to initiate through the support of the network. Each project involves academic researchers partnering with commercial companies or government agencies in the food sector to deliver solutions to food safety problems.

The projects include developing rapid diagnostic tests and hi-tech biosensors for detecting food pathogens across the farm-to-fork chain; novel ways to combat threats of microbial contamination of fresh, minimally-processed foods, seafoods as well as raw pet foods; and provide a better understanding of microbial communities in the farming of crickets as a sustainable protein source.

The UK Food Safety Research Network is hosted by the Quadram Institute on the Norwich Research Park and was established in June 2022 by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to tackle the major challenges of food poisoning in the UK. It serves as a hub for innovation, connecting the food industry, policymakers and academic researchers to collaboratively pursue shared research priorities that will protect the UK from foodborne hazards.

Quadram Institute group leader and network director, Dr Matt Gilmour said “We’re delighted to be able to support these highly innovative projects and get them off the ground. As well as ensuring consumers have the safest possible food choices, these projects also support sustainable economic growth and we look forward to seeing the technology they develop being deployed in the next few years.”


Project Summaries:

A graphic showing a reddish phage structure with round bosdy and legs on a surface of blue round cellsDevelopment of bacteriophage cocktails to decrease Salmonella contamination in raw pet food

Raw pet foods are growing in popularity, as owners seek ways to improve the health of their pets. To help prevent risks to public health, new ways are being sought to ensure these foods don’t become a significant route into people’s homes for pathogenic bacteria, like Salmonella.

Prof. Rob Kingsley from the Quadram Institute is partnering with a raw pet food manufacturer and using funding from FSRN to deploy natural killers of bacteria, bacteriophages, to provide a safe intervention to be used during processing to reduce Salmonella risks from raw pet foods. If these bacteriophage cocktails show promise in this sector, the findings could be applied to other food production settings.

three rolled up pieces of pink smoked salmon on a silver plate

Phage as biocontrol of Listeria monocytogenes in the United Kingdom aquaculture

Recent Listeria outbreaks implicating seafoods have highlighted the challenge of controlling these bacteria in the food production setting. Added to this, Listeria monocytogenes is showing increasing levels of antimicrobial resistance. This dual threat to public health, to the immunocompromised and the direct threat from Listeria, is prompting calls for novel biocontrol systems.

Dr Sudhakar Bhandare from the University of Nottingham is partnering with Prof Margaret Crumlish from the University of Stirling, with support from a seafood processor and Food Standards Scotland in this project to trial the use of bacteriophages in the post-harvest biocontrol of Listeria in salmon and trout products, which not only would bolster public health, but also reduce food waste, extend product shelf life, and further promote these seafoods as part of a healthy human diet.

Acheta domesticus 0zzProfiling microbial communities in Acheta domesticus production systems for risk assessment and evaluation, and development of best practice approaches

Insect farming is a promising source of protein to address challenges of food security and the need for more sustainable diets. Crickets (Acheta domesticus) are at forefront of this drive for sustainable protein, but there are concerns about a lack of knowledge of the microbial risks associated with large-scale intense insect farming; what are the sources of contamination, how do insects interact with pathogens, how long do they persist and how can they be detected?

Dr Edward Fox from Northumbria University is working with the UK Edible Insect Association (formerly the Woven Network) in this project to address these issues by providing the first detailed landscape of the microbial communities associated with cricket farming, and the associated risks to food safety.

Close up view of a surface of slice of cheese with holes in itFibre optic biosensors to transform environmental monitoring programs and enable real-time monitoring of pathogens in food processing systems

To maintain the safety of foods, producers continually monitor products and the production environment to eradicate risks from pathogens contaminating foods. Many of these detection methods currently take days or even weeks, when what is needed are approaches that flag problems in hours or even minutes.

Dr Edward Fox from Northumbria University is partnering with Prima Cheese Ltd, on this project to deploy a rapid, antibody-based biosensor that’s been validated in the laboratory for sensitivity against key pathogens as part of an environmental monitoring programme. This will give producers a new tool for a more proactive approach to underpin food safety.

a mixed salad of chopped lettuce, cucumber, tomato and carrotInvestigation of the antimicrobial activity of a newly-developed formula of a commercial disinfectant and its potential use in combination with ozone treatment

Consumers are increasingly looking for fresh, minimally processed ready-to-eat foods, for perceived health benefits and to support trends towards vegetarian diets. But these do not come without risks to food safety. Fresh produce will contribute to the burden of food poisoning, as well as spoilage and food wastage, unless steps to remove pathogens and reduce microbial numbers are taken.

Dr Kimon Karatzas from the University of Reading is partnering with AgriCoat Natureseal who specialise in shelf-life extension technology to trial a new technique which is less harsh than the current disinfection techniques that use chlorine. This will reduce the impact of microbes on food safety and waste, whilst maintaining the nutritional value and consumer acceptance of the qualities of these.

Gold glitter Photo by Achira22 : https://www.pexels.com/photo/gold-glitter-lot-751374/AuRA Tests: Gold nanoparticle (AuNP) rapid tests for the point-of-care detection of foodborne microbes

Microbial contamination of food is responsible for 2.4 million cases of food poisoning per year, and also causes food spoilage, contributing to the 25% of food that is wasted. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic tests can contribute to protecting public health.

Dr Enrico Ferrari from Lincoln University is partnering with Dr Rosario Romero from Fera Science Ltd in this project to bring that approach to the food industry. It will provide proof-of-concept of rapid tests based on gold nanotechnology. This technology can then be expanded to multiple pathogens and used without the needs for specialised laboratories or staff throughout the food production chain to understand precisely where and when contamination occurs.