June 7, 2021, by Andrew Edwards (Ed)

The importance of food safety

Today is World Food Safety Day! The foods we eat need to be safe for us to consume, not only for human health but wider planetary health, economic prosperity and sustainable development. There are systemic interconnections between the health of people, animals, plants, the environment, and the economy.

We all have a role to play in ensuring food is safe and healthy – from the farmers who produce crops, to manufacturers who process foods, supermarkets and retailers who sell food, and the cooks who prepare food for others to eat.

Why should we care about food safety?

Food safety not only has an impact on ensuring you do not get sick from a food-borne disease, it is also important for maintaining nutrients, especially in young children. Food-borne illness in childhood can make it more difficult for children to obtain the necessary micronutrients they need to grow and develop. Unsafe foods also impact on their ability to participate in education, as children cannot attend school when sick, thus affecting their futures.

Alongside the ordinary challenge of keeping food safe, is the challenge of climate change. As weather patterns change, so farming becomes more unpredictable; farming practices and the nutritional quality of food are affected. Complex microorganisms and pests are affected by climate change, which may lead to differences in the occurrence and intensity of food-borne diseases.

Universities have a role to play in developing our understanding of food-borne disease and the ways to make food safer, and in creating tools, methods and solutions to the challenge. At the University of Nottingham, we have several projects focused on food safety.

PROTECT: Predictive mOdelling Tools to evaluate the Effects of Climate change on food safeTy

Prof. Rachel Gomes and Assoc. Prof. Becca Ferrari are heading up the PROTECT programme, focusing on the EU’s challenge of doubling food production by 2050, while simultaneously dealing with the impact of climate change on food safety. The PROTECT Innovative Training Network (ITN) will provide high-level training to a new generation of high achieving early stage researchers, who will receive a unique combination of ‘hands on’ research training from, and placements with, academic and non-academic members of the consortium.

Agriculture is changing due to climate change, and with it, food safety

The PROTECT consortium brings together intersectoral and multidisciplinary expertise from 11 European Countries. It will share technical and training expertise to recruit and train 8 highly skilled early stage researchers in advanced modelling tools to investigate the impact of climate change on food safety.

Food is unsafe if it is injurious to health (due to pathogenic bacteria or mycotoxins) or unfit for human consumption (due to spoilage bacteria). The knowledge generated by the project will be used to:

  • create a science-based decision support tool and develop policy guidance through a white paper
  • support specialist job creation in food safety
  • ensure growth and public confidence in Europe’s agri-food sector.

Using the Internet of Things and data to improve food manufacturing

Dr Nik Watson, a member of the Future Food Beacon’s Leadership team, has an ongoing interest in food safety. He has two projects currently investigating how data and new technologies can help improve food safety in different manufacturing settings.

Internet of Things enhanced Factory Cleaning

This project investigates how data and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies can be used to detect the presence of allergens and enhance the cleaning undertaken in food factories. Using supervised machine learning methods, this project will perform fundamental science to detect the presence of different types of allergens in food materials. It will also investigate the effective and responsible collection, use and visualisation of cleaning and allergen detection data from cleaning robots within the factory environment. Dr Watson is working with a variety of food manufacturers, ranging from SMEs to multinationals in order to determine their requirements for cleaning operations.

Nik explains: “The IoFT feasibility project will enable the University of Nottingham to investigate some of the opportunities and challenges of using data, machine learning and other digital manufacturing technologies in the critical area of food and drink factory cleaning”.

 21st Century Meat Inspector

The effective inspection of poultry within processing facilities is essential to ensure food safety and regulatory compliance. Inspections are currently performed manually but this is extremely challenging due to the short time available to inspect each bird, and the sustained level of concentration required. This project investigates how existing and new inspection technologies can be combined with advanced data analytics and incorporated into current meat inspection practices to deliver the 21st Century Meat Inspector.

Posted in Food Research