Since anthrax, rabbit fever and brucellosis rarely occur in Germany, official food monitoring is not set for routine detection of the highly pathogenic bacteria and detection requires specialist knowledge which only few laboratories have.
However, these pathogens can do great harm if they enter the food chain.
Reasons for dissemination can be natural catastrophes such as floods, biological terrorist attacks or even technical or human failure.
Spreeding up investigation
BfR is collaborating with five project partners to develop diagnostic procedures and IT tools to speed up the investigation of such disease outbreaks.
Other partners are the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, the Free University of Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, KNIME.com and PolyAn.
The project (Ess-B.A.R.), which started in May and runs until April 2019, will use the bacterial pathogens Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Francisella tularensis (tularaemia) and Brucella spp. (brucellosis).
One focus is development of diagnostic procedures so highly infectious zoonotic pathogens can be detected early in the food chain.
Traditional detection is based on conventional culture-based methods and phenotypic, biochemical or serological characterisation. Definite identification may take several days or weeks and requires specialised laboratories.
Development of omics techniques
The goal is to develop, with the aid of Omics technologies (Next Generation Sequencing; high resolution mass spectrometry), universally applicable methods for cultivation-independent detection of food-associated pathogens.
It will also look at Point-of-Care tests for detection of bacterial pathogens in food matrices.
The second research focus is the development of IT tools for analysing complex data.
BfR said user-friendly workflows will be developed allowing analysis of complex experimental data (NGS, HR-MS) together with epidemiological information and meta data.
It added scientific results will be published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at conferences. Expansion of methodologies to other bacterial pathogens is planned.
These tools will enable better analysis of the spread of a pathogen and to identify the outbreak sources quicker.
The Federal Ministry for Education and Research sponsors the Ess-B.A.R. project with €2m.
Japan and Germany partnership
Meanwhile, the Food Safety Commission of Japan (FSCJ) and the BfR have signed a cooperation agreement around food safety.
The scientific exchange of the two institutions will focus on development of analytical procedures for the traceability flows of goods.
Other areas of cooperation include antimicrobial resistance and the food safety of fish and fishery products.
The FSCJ is a scientific Japanese government organisation which acts independently from risk management state agencies. It conducts scientific risk assessment of foods and advises the government on consumer health protection.
BfR already has agreements on the scientific exchange of information with Chinese, Indian and Brazilian sister agencies.