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UK network funds first set of food safety projects

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A food safety platform in the United Kingdom has selected an initial batch of projects to receive grants.

The UK Food Safety Research Network (FSRN) will fund six projects with amounts ranging from £30,000 ($36,100) to £62,000 ($74,700).

Each project involves researchers partnering with companies or government agencies in the food sector.

They include developing rapid diagnostic tests and high-tech biosensors for detecting food pathogens across the farm-to-fork chain and novel ways to combat threats of microbial contamination of fresh, minimally-processed foods, seafood and raw pet foods.

FSRN is hosted by the Quadram Institute and was established in June 2022 by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to tackle food poisoning in the UK. FSA and BBSRC invested £1.6 million ($1.9 million) in the initiative.

Matt Gilmour, Quadram Institute group leader and network director, 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 overviews
UK estimates show there are 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness a year with an annual cost of £9 billion ($10.8 billion), including £6 billion ($7.2 billion) from unknown causes. Campylobacter and Salmonella cause the greatest economic impact but Listeria has the highest mortality rate.

One project involves the development of bacteriophage cocktails to decrease Salmonella contamination in raw pet food. Rob Kingsley from Quadram Institute has partnered with a raw pet food manufacturer on the intervention to be used during processing. People can become infected when handling pet food.

Sudhakar Bhandare, of the University of Nottingham, is partnering with Margaret Crumlish from the University of Stirling, with support from a seafood processor and Food Standards Scotland to trial use of bacteriophages in the post-harvest biocontrol of Listeria in salmon and trout products.

Edward Fox from Northumbria University is working with Prima Cheese on a rapid, antibody-based biosensor that’s been validated in the laboratory for sensitivity against key pathogens as part of an environmental monitoring program. The aim is a more proactive approach and real-time monitoring.

The University of Reading and a company specializing in shelf life extension technology are to trial a technique which is less harsh than the current disinfection methods that use chlorine. They will assess the antimicrobial activity of a newly-developed formula of a commercial disinfectant and its potential use with ozone treatment.

Enrico Ferrari from Lincoln University and Rosario Romero from Fera Science hope to provide proof-of-concept of rapid tests based on gold nanoparticles to detect foodborne microbes. The technology could be expanded to multiple pathogens and used without specialized labs or experts throughout the food production chain to understand where and when contamination occurred.

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