Foodborne diseases are common, impacting, costly, yet preventable public health problems. Several important factors like climate, global trade, the usage of new ingredients and consumer behaviours are changing, and these changes might affect microbial populations in food. To address such complex changes, instead of addressing issues individually, a more conceptual framework detailing how to incorporate risk analyses in food safety management systems is needed. Further, understanding the new emerging molecular techniques is key to interpret results and use them in food safety management.
A new activity proposal on ‘Parameters for Process Validation Study Protocols’ is currently under scientific review. Food manufacturers and processors are required to obtain scientific evidence that a control measure or combination of control measures, if properly implemented, is capable of controlling a hazard to a specified outcome. However, there are no generic protocols available that could guide manufacturers and ensure that all relevant aspects are considered, when undertaking a validation. Therefore, the task force will develop a recommended protocol for validation studies in order to control foodborne pathogens.
The task force is currently considering potential new activities and would welcome your contribution on the following topics:
- Environmental Monitoring Guidelines/ Control Programs (best practice);
- Industrial Microbiological Risk Assessment in Dairy Products;
- The Use of Meta-Analysis in Microbiological Risk Assessments;
- Pathogens of Relevance (STEC and Listeria) in Low Moisture Food;
- When do Spoilage Organisms become a Food Safety Issue?
A new manuscript has been published on ‘Risk Assessment or Assessment of Risk? Developing an Evidence Based Approach for Primary Producers of Leafy Vegetables to Assess and Manage Microbial Risks’ (J. Monaghan et al., 2017) in the Journal of Food Protection. The results of this publication will be featured in a webinar on 17 October 2017.
By investigating microbial issues in foods that are related to public health risks, this task force facilitates the development of and raises awareness of harmonised, science-based approaches to predict and prevent risks, supporting an international dialogue for decision-making by regulators and food industry. The task force critically reviews the existing knowledge on pathogen behaviour and ecology and why they persist (e.g. detection and typing methods, as well as potential control options available). Research gaps are also being identified, thereby stimulating further research activities.
The task force assesses (re-)emerging micro-organisms to address potential issues, before they would become an incidence. Such insights are very useful in guidance for the food industry and could also be considered by regulatory bodies, when performing their risk assessments.
- The task force is continuously working on guidance documents for authorities, small and medium businesses (also suppliers) to support them in implementing efficient food safety systems, e.g. on microbial risk assessment and verification testing.
- Over 450 people attended a free live webinar on the ‘Relevance of End-Product Testing in Food Safety Management’, organised in partnership with the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP). The webinar presented findings from two recent publications (M.H. Zwietering et al., 2016; R. Buchanan & D. Schaffner, 2015). The ILSI Europe publication was downloaded over 6,500 times and has received over 19,000 views on Mendeley.
- This task force has a long standing history of being involved in the organising committee of IAFP’s European Symposium on Food Safety and has been organising scientific sessions at the symposium for years. This year the task force supported multiple sessions at IAFP’s European Symposium on Food Safety 2017 (29-31 March 2017, Brussels, Belgium) and IAFP’s Annual Meeting (9-12 July 2017, Tampa, US) and was leading the Local Organising Committee at the European symposium.
- Our report on ‘Persistence and Survival of Pathogens in Dry Food Processing Environments’ (L. Beuchat et al., 2011) served as a basis for a paper Low–Water Activity Foods: Increased Concern as Vehicles of Foodborne Pathogens (L. Beuchat et al., 2013) which was awarded the 2016 Most-Downloaded Journal of Food Protection Publication Award.
For more detailed information, please contact Dr Belén Márquez García at BMarquezGarcia@ilsieurope.be
The Use Of Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS): Translation into Practice
Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) tools are fast evolving techniques that are already applied in many different fields spanning from epidemiology, outbreak investigations, anti-microbial resistance, ecology and evolution of microorganisms. However, there is a lack of communication and understanding on how NGS tools are being used and interpreted by regulators to investigate food safety incidents. Knowledge gaps exist regarding the application of NGS in the food microbiology area. It is imperative for all parties involved to understand NGS and its current limitations and to have guidelines on how it could be implemented and used to improve food safety. Although there are reports on the use of metagenomics tools to study microbial ecology in food or the food associated environment, the application of these tools to improve the food safety risk assessment/management options has yet to be investigated. Based on the above, the expert group will address some of the questions triggered by the NGS technologies, such as best practices to be considered during data generation, data analysis, and it will also explore the possibilities of data sharing amongst all stakeholders for the overall improvement of food safety.
This activity has two main aims:
- To investigate how NGS applications / research of food and food associated environmental microbial community can contribute to the improvement of risk assessment and risk management options;
- To provide guidance to industry describing values and current limitations on generation of sequence information, bioinformatics analyses and biological interpretation of data employed in NGS analysis.
With the support of ILSI Japan, ILSI North America and ILSI Southeast Asia Region, this activity is tackled at a global scale.
The activity will result in a peer-reviewed publication discussing the potential uses and data gaps in the field on NGS. Additionally, a separate guidance document on NGS will bring clarity on how the tools can be implemented and their potential applications for the improvement of food safety. As some NGS tools are still in the early stages, this expert group will help steer the research to exploit the full potential of using NGS tools. The final output will improve the industry knowledge and will ultimately contribute to the advancement of public health by improving food safety.
Control Options for Viruses in Food Processing
Viruses occur frequently and are probably the most under-recognised cause of foodborne illnesses. Unfortunately, viruses are quite resistant to many treatments used in food processing and could also contaminate food via their occurrence in the production/processing environment. The purpose of this activity is to review current knowledge on how viruses can be controlled in food-industrial settings.
The experts are discussing and summarising the control options for viruses in different food processing systems. Data/knowledge gaps that need to be considered in order to determine specific performance objectives for viruses in foods will then be evaluated. In addition, the experts will provide recommendations for further research including specific processing technologies (e.g. heat treatment, but also non-thermal treatments and their effects on viruses) and methodological considerations (e.g. limitations, design and drawbacks of inactivation studies or the use of surrogate viruses).
The manuscript on ‘Foodborne Viruses: Detection, Risk Assessment, and Control Options in Food Processing’ has been submitted for publication. It features foodborne viruses that contribute to their potential as foodborne disease agents, focusing primarily on norovirus, hepatitis A and E viruses. Also, it studies their epidemiology, their methodological considerations, and assesses natural persistence, foods at risk and procedural technologies. Furthermore, the publication will highlight data gaps and challenges in experimental design and processing technologies. Ultimately, this publication will pave the way forward to establish specific performance objectives that could serve as references for food producers, food regulators and for risk assessment.
Industrial Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA) – Completed
Phase 1 – Fresh Produce
There is a lack of practical, applicable data and guidelines to perform Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA). The information that currently exists in the public domain is highly theoretical and very generic; applying it to different industry sectors can be difficult. The activity aims to provide easy-to-follow and practical MRA recommendations specific to different industry sectors and guidance on the implementation of risk assessment strategies within companies.
Existing risk assessment tools are used to develop a series of publications directed towards several food sectors explaining the different approaches to MRA with examples. This guidance will help the reader gain an understanding of and hence apply risk assessment to the sector in focus.
The first activity of this expert group focused on fresh produce to be consumed uncooked. This example was chosen since a significant reduction in microbial load is difficult to achieve. This paper proposes an approach based on a structured qualitative assessment, which requires all decisions to be based on evidence and on a framework for describing the decision process that can be challenged and defended within the supply chain. In addition, the paper highlights the need for evidence bases to be more easily available and accessible to primary producers and identifies the need to develop hygiene criteria to aid validation of proposed interventions.
As a follow-up, a series of publications supporting a wide range of industry sectors (e.g. first dairy, and subsequently ready-to-eat meal, meat, poultry, fish, seafood) in understanding and applying risk assessment to their specific processes will be envisaged. Ultimately, these publications should lead to safer food for the consumer.
The Use Of Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS): Translation into Practice
* The participation of these experts is supported by ILSI Japan, ILSI North America or ILSI Southeast Asia Region.
**This company is a member of ILSI Japan.
Control Options for Viruses in Food Processing
Industrial Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA)
The task force organised a webinar designed for industry experts and regulatory agencies on the relevance of end-product testing in food safety management, on November 2015, with the support of IAFP.’
Journal of Food Protection: May 2017, Vol. 80, No. 5, pp. 725-733. Commissioned by the Microbiological Food Safety Task Force.
Food Control. 2016;60:31-43. Commissioned by the Microbiological Food Safety Task Force (previously Risk Analysis in Food Microbiology Task Force).
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2015;14(4):387-410. Commissioned by the Emerging Microbiologal Issues Task Force.
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2015;14:336-356. Commissioned by the Emerging Microbiological Issues Task Force
Trends in Food Science & Technology. 2015;46(2) Part A:176-188. Supported by the following task forces: Emerging Microbiological Issues, Food Allergy, Food Intake Methodology, Novel Foods and Nanotechnology, Process Related Compounds and Natural Toxins, Risk Analysis in Food Microbiology, and Threshold of Toxicological Concern.