The project combines whole gene sequencing (WGS), the “factory microbiome”, and predictive analytics, explained Sinéad Proos, senior innovation commercialisation manager for Food for Health Ireland, at University College Dublin (UCD).
“The microbiome of a facility is like the microbiome in your gut – it is the whole [factory] microbial environment,” she said.
The project is looking at how different bacteria – both good and bad – in factory environments interact, said Proos.
‘Sanitation failure within manufacturing plants’
“Some prevent others from colonising. Others start to interact with each other to create biofilms; they drive sanitation failure within manufacturing plants. We think if we can understand the entire environment within your manufacturing plant, we will be able to predict risk better,” she said.
In her talk at the event, sponsored by Checkit, Dycem, eurofins, Ishida, Pal International and Westgate Factory Dividers, Proos described work on listeria-negative and listeria-positive drains in poultry plants to highlight how “natural biocontrols” could be developed.
“We discovered there was one bacterium that was present in the listeria-negative drain that was not present in the listeria-positive drains and that was Janthinobacterium lividum,” said Proos.
Elsewhere, the resistance of certain bacteria to different biocides in dairies was examined. Studies looked at the tolerance of Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) to benzalkonium chloride sanitisers routinely used in food plants.
‘Enhancing your cleaning steps’
“About a third of them were resistant … and WGS can help you understand that. So, if you have a Lm issue and you think you’re just going to keep on enhancing your cleaning steps; it may not always get rid of the strains that are persisting in the factory environment.”
The three-year £1.35M (€1.7M) Sequencing Alliance for Food Environments (SAFE) project began in April 2016. It is a partnership between Enterprise Ireland and UCD’s Centre for Food Safety, Dairygold, Dawn Farm Foods, Glanbia, Kerry Group, Mead Johnson Nutrition and Nutrition Supplies and Services.
Its aim is to mitigate the risk of bacterial contamination in the food supply chain. As part of the project, Creme Global will be developing a predictive analytical modelling software toolbox.
“[Researchers] want to be able to use the data to make better business decisions,” said Proos.