Food factories to become safer thanks to DNA testing

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Scientists at UCD’s Centre for Food Safety have high hopes for NGS
Scientists at UCD’s Centre for Food Safety have high hopes for NGS

Related tags: Food safety, Food

A major food safety initiative aimed at revolutionising food safety in manufacturing plants has been launched in Ireland with the involvement of six food companies.

Using so-called next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, the Sequencing Alliance for Food Environments (SAFE) project plans to develop new predictive software that will enhance approaches to food quality and safety.

By creating a ‘toolbox’ of data that will be able to define and track bacterial characteristics at the DNA level, the architects of SAFE hope to replace current methods used to control bacteria in factories, which they describe as “neither sufficiently rapid nor specific”​.

£1.35M (€1.7M) project

The three-year £1.35M (€1.7M) project is a partnership between Enterprise Ireland and the University College Dublin (UCD) Centre for Food Safety, Dairygold, Dawn Farm Foods, Glanbia, Kerry Group, Mead Johnson Nutrition and Nutrition Supplies. Creme Global will supply the predictive intake modelling software. Through the software toolbox, SAFE aims to mitigate the risk of bacterial contamination in the food supply chain.

Over a two-year period, researchers at UCD will track the environments in a number of food manufacturing plants in Ireland. These include infant formula-grade ingredient plants, a cooked and fermented meat processing plant and a precision vitamin and mineral pre-mix manufacturing facility.

Seasonal and climate changes will be taken into consideration during this period, as they can cause changes in the microbiome – affecting food quality, safety and the nutritional profile of products that are manufactured.

By mapping these microbiomes across the seasons, SAFE will develop databases that leverage gene sequencing technology and statistical analysis to define bacterial characteristics at the DNA level.

These databases will then be used to develop a predictive software toolbox. This toolbox will enable quicker and more accurate quality control analysis of the bacteria present in food facilities.

Harmful bacteria

This, according to Professor Séamus Fanning, UCD Professor of food safety, will prevent harmful bacteria entering the food supply chain in a faster and a more sustainable way.

Fanning said: “I am excited about the possibilities of what this research can deliver. It is a proactive move, rather than a reactive one.

“In harnessing this technology, this project will place Ireland's food industry at the leading-edge of regulatory science.”

Fanning added that the project had been made possible due to developments in NGS technologies, along with a significant reduction in associated costs.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration is implementing NGS as a routine surveillance tool to support its enforcement of food regulatory controls.

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