UK establishes new food safety network

The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has entered into a partnership with the country’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Quadram Institute, a private non-profit company, to form a new Food Safety Research Network.

The FSA and BBSRC have invested a combined £1.6 million in the network, which will be hosted by Quadram.

Quadram describes itself as a state-of-the-art facility for bioscience and clinical research.

“[T]he network will ensure that the FSA is well-placed to tackle the challenges of foodborne illnesses by bringing together experts from government, industry and academia to address current and emerging issues of food safety in the UK,” said the FSA’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Robin May.

According to the FSA, there are an estimated 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness a year in the UK, or roughly 35 cases per 1000 population. The annual cost of these illnesses is estimated to be £9 billion (with £6 billion from unknown causes).

In comparison, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 48 million cases of foodborne illness in the US annually, or roughtly 144 cases per 1000 population.

Most of the economic impact from these cases of foodborne illness in the UK is due to Salmonella and Campylobacter

The goal of the new network is to connect food industry, food and health policymakers and academia to collaboratively pursue shared research priorities that will protect the UK from foodborne hazards.

“The safety of our food is threatened by both enduring and emerging threats from microbes that contaminate our food,” said Dr. Matt Gilmour, UK Food Safety Network Lead.

“This threat is exemplified by microbes that spread between the environment, animals and humans,” he added, “with foodborne exposures being a means for the transmission of pathogens and novel antimicrobial resistance genes from agriculture.

“The challenge is to take an integrated and unified approach to these problems right through from agriculture and the environment, to food production and human health, in what’s termed a ‘One Health’ approach.”

To achieve their vision of science-based food safety, the collaborating organizations have set several objectives:

  • assemble a community of UK food producers, food policy makers and scientific researchers who collectively can take robust actions toward improving food safety
  • identify areas of research need and opportunity that, in the view of food stakeholders and network members, will have meaningful impacts on UK food safety
  • coordinate new collaborative research activities that will promote the application of science towards the food safety challenges identified by our food system community
  • host training promoting skills development, interoperability and relationship-building between our food system community
  • translate the knowledge generated within the Network to food safety stakeholders, and to upcycle existing information and technologies relevant to food safety that have not yet been applied more broadly.

Learn more about the history of food safety in TAINTED. From Farm Gate to Dinner Plate, Fifty Years of Food Safety Failures, now available in digital, print and audiobook editions.

TAINTED formats 3
“Reads like a true crime novel” – Food Safety News

3 Deaths in UK Listeria outbreak linked to sandwiches

Three people are dead and three others infected with Listeria monocytogenes in a hospital-based outbreak linked to pre-packaged sandwiches in England, according to Public Health England.

All six outbreak victims were seriously ill hospital patients in England. So far, no cases have been reported from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The Good Food Chain, supplier of the implicated sandwiches, has withdrawn sandwiches and salads linked to the illnesses, and has voluntarily suspended production at its Stone, Staffordshire facility pending completion of the investigation.

The outbreak strain was detected in a sample of meat from North Country Cooked Meats, a supplier to The Good Food Chain. The supplier and its distributor, North Country Quality Foods, have voluntarily ceased production.

Most infections with Listeria monocytogenes develop as a result of eating a contaminated food. A healthy adult may develop very mild symptoms – muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea – within 48 hours of having become infected, or may not experience any symptoms at all.

The elderly, the very young, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immune systems are susceptible to a more invasive form of Listeria monocytogenes infection, which can spread through the body and cause a fatal illness.

Some pregnant women who become infected with Listeria monocytogenes may miscarry; others give birth to infected babies. Historically, approximately one-half (50%) of babies infected in the womb or during delivery are stillborn or die as a result of the disease – usually from meningitis.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people at elevated risk for Listeria monocytogenes infections should avoid eating lunch meats, cold cuts, or other deli meats unless they are heated to 165ºF (steaming hot) just before serving.