Research projects map out food safety hotspots

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, Fsa, Food, Uk food standards agency

A number of food safety and nutrition research studies up for
funding by the UK regulator could result in new codes of practice
or regulation for the industry.

The studies are part of a programme by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) to increase food safety and improve nutrition throughout the country. The research studies could eventually help big and small companies improve their food safety practices.

Over recent years the FSA has been working towards a target to reduce foodborne disease by 20 per cent by the year 2006 and even further by 2010.

The FSA commissioned projects up for bid include: microbial risk management, the eggs and poultry sector, microbial surveillance, chemical contaminants from food production, a safety assessment of novel and genetically modified foods, a survey of food acceptability and choice, a survey of food choice inequalities, food authenticity, food intolerance, and research on surveillance and monitoring in Scotland.

Laboratory researchers have until 19 May to put their applications to the UK regulator to receive funding for the projects.

Researchers who win the microbial risk management project will investigate the impact of different preparation and storage conditions on the growth and survival of Enterobacter sakazakii and related organisms in reconstituted powdered infant formula, follow-on formula, formula for special medical purposes and breast milk fortifiers.

The eggs and poultry project will evaluate the effectiveness of best practice recommendations to reduce the risks associated with thinning, a common practice throughout the poultry industry, where a proportion of a poultry flock is removed prior to depopulation of a broiler house.

Although it is generally accepted that this is a major risk factor for introducing Campylobacter into flocks, the majority of the UK industry sees thinning as an economic necessity, the FSA noted.

Previous research produced recommendations suitable for the production of a code of practice for the thinning process, and suggestions for suitable intervention measures.

The FSA is now funding a followup study to determine the effectiveness of the proposed recommendations and suggested interventions.

The regulator has set a new target to work with industry to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in the incidence of UK produced chicken testing positive for campylobacter by 2010.

A third project will help the regulator devise sensitive and specific examination methods for meat preparation products such as herbs, spices and injected marinates. The methods will be compared against current food testing protocols.

At present, standardised examination methods are not sufficient for the recovery of micro-organisms from raw meat preparations such as beefburgers, chicken kievs, seasoned steaks and sausages, the FSA stated in its research documentation.

"The estimation of bacterial levels may not be as accurate using current methods due to difficulties in detection or recovery,"​ the FSA stated. "The production processes of meat preparation products can result in microorganisms being found throughout the product and not just on the surface of the food."

Micro-organisms can be present on meat cuts and some pathogens may also be introduced from ingredients such as herbs or spices. The inadequate cooking of these types of products may result in viable pathogens being present within the meat.

Another project will investigate the consumption of fish and shellfish from unmanaged UK inland waterways and if necessary, develop a sampling and analytical programme to determine the levels of environmental contaminants present.

Researchers can also apply for a project to analyse samples of milk, cheese, yoghurt, eggs and commercial seaweed for iodine. Information should be provided on other elements that may be reported as part of the analysis at no extra cost.

A project on GM organisms will help develop methods to study the modification of transgenic proteins compared with their native equivalents that can be applied in the safety assessment of such foods or ingredients.

A project to develop a sensitive test to detect gelatine in plant-based foods and beverages would be used to determine the animal source of the gelatine. The end product would be a validated standard operating procedure (SOP) for detecting the source as a means of determining whether a food or drink is vegetarian.

In a previous consumer study, consumers were the most concerned about the authenticity of foods claiming to conform to vegetarian or religious requirements.

In response to the concern, the FSA previously commissioned research to develop methods to detect meat-based ingredients in vegetarian foods.

Successful methods, which can detect animal DNA and animal based fats, were developed. There have been more recent concerns about the use of gelatine, an animal based ingredient from collagen in skin and bones, in vegetarian or halal foods.

Gelatine is used as a thickener or gelling agent, a carrier for other ingredients, and a clarifying agent in certain fruit juices, wines and beer.

"There is a need to develop a sensitive method for gelatine to be able to test vegetarian foods and beverages, which may contain gelatine at very low levels,"​ the FSA stated.

Researchers who win project Q01R0015 will seek to apply existing methods of determining milk, egg, and fish proteins to measuring the content of animal based ingredients in composite foods. The validation of these methods will determine their accuracy and uncertainty in measuring imported products of animal origin from third countries.

The method would be used to verify whether a food consists of 50 per cent or more of an animal based ingredient.

Changes to the European Commission regulation covering veterinary checks due in 2006, will lay down more detailed rules as to which imported foods are considered products of animal origin. Products containing animal-based ingredients such as milk, eggs, fish or honey, which make up 50 per cent or more by weight of the food, will be required to be subject to veterinary checks.

Project T07R0004 will seek to determine operational thresholds for the labelling of food allergens.

All applicants will be informed of the outcome of the assessment process by 1 September 2006.

In December 2004 the FSA published its strategic plan, identifying food safety, health and choice as three key areas for research.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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