The global burden of foodborne illness is massive, causing an estimated 420,000 deaths and 600 million cases of illness each year, according to the latest estimate by the World Health Organisation. Although 40% of cases are in young children, and the problem is most severe in low-income countries, food safety affects people of all ages and nationalities. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency estimates over a million people suffer a foodborne illness each year costing the economy over £1.5 billion.
The Quadram Institute is helping to tackle this problem by studying how microbes evolve, spread, survive and compete in the food chain. We use the knowledge we gain to develop new ways of intervening to reduce the burden of foodborne illness, and in the safe development of novel foods.
Within the Quadram Institute, we have the expertise and experience to work with the key bacteria of concern to food safety, coupled with genomics, metagenomics and bioinformatics excellence. This interdisciplinary approach is allowing us to get the fullest understanding yet of foodborne pathogenic bacteria across the entire food chain.
Our aim is to understand the genomic epidemiology of key foodborne pathogens, including Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Listeria, Brachyspira, and Clostridium botulinum. This involves studying isolates taken from different sources across the food chain, including animals, soil, farms, water, food processing and the wider environment. We are using advanced genomic techniques, including developing novel sequencing and bioinformatic techniques, to understand the evolution of pathogenic bacteria, and to identify the genetic components responsible for their emergence, survival and transport through the food chain, and their ability to infect and cause disease in humans.
This involves studying bacterial strains in isolation, but importantly also includes aspects of microbial ecology, where we are using our expertise to understand microbial communities in the food chain, from the farm through to the gut microbiome. This facilitates our efforts to translate our findings into interventions targeting those foodborne pathogens, working with the food industry.
We work closely with the food industry to translate our findings into specific interventions targeting foodborne pathogens in the food chain, as well as in the development of novel foods, in response to consumer demand for improved quality, longer shelf life and reductions in preservatives, salt and sugar. Our research is delivering new, minimally processed foods that meet these demands, but maintain a high level of food safety.