Providing guidance on microbial issues for efficient food safety systems

Background

Foodborne diseases are common, 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 be able 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.

Objectives

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. This includes investigating detection and typing methods, as well as potential control options available. Research gaps are also being identified, thereby stimulating further research activities.

Impact

  • The 2016 Most-Downloaded Journal of Food Protection Publication Award was given for an update of the ILSI Europe report on Persistence and Survival of Pathogens in Dry Food Processing Environments (L. Beuchat et al., 2011). This award is based on the number of downloads in calendar year 2015.
  • 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 publication was downloaded over 6,500 times and has received 12,000 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 supports multiple sessions and is leading the Local Organising Committee as the symposium is held in Brussels, Belgium, on 29-31 March 2017.

What’s New

  • New manuscript has been accepted on ‘Risk Assessment or Assessment of Risk? Developing an Evidence Based Approach for Primary Producers of Leafy Vegetables to Assess and Manage Microbial Risks’ for publication in the International Journal of Food Protection.
  • New activity on ‘Next Generation Sequencing (NGS): Translation into Practice. The activity will result in an opinion paper and a guidance document highlighting the opportunities, limitations and challenges presented by next generation technologies used for whole genome sequencing from pure cultures (e.g. microbial strain typing) or mixed cultures (metagenomic applications) of microbial nucleic acids.

For more detailed information, please contact Ms Lilou van Lieshout at lvanlieshout@ilsieurope.be

Task Force Members

*Scientific Advisor

Expert Groups

The Use Of Meta-Analysis In Microbiological Risk Assessments – NEW

Objectives

Meta-analysis, a statistical technique that involves amalgamating, summarising, and reviewing previous quantitative research to identify trends and obtain realistic estimates of relevant values and their variability, has recently gained interest in predictive microbiology. Meta-analysis can address a wide variety of questions where a reasonable body of primary research studies exists and is applied in microbiological risk assessments as a means of generating global estimates of parameters with their associated variability. Only a limited number of meta-analysis studies is available so far in the area of predictive food microbiology and although some companies collect information regarding kinetic parameters, most lack the technical skills needed to extract this information out of their databases.

Activity

The aim of the activity is to educate food safety professionals on how to use this technique for collecting and analysing information in order to cover the basic data needs of a risk assessment (D-values, growth rates and dose-response data). This will be done using as an example two or three products from a fast growing food category that interests most industries such as refrigerated processed foods of extended durability (REPFED). The kinetic parameters of pathogenic and spoilage psychrotolerant bacilli that are the main microorganisms of concern in this product group have so far not been the subject of a meta-analysis.

Expected Output

The activity will result in a peer-reviewed publication providing guidance on how to use meta-analyses in predictive microbiology. In addition, the datasets will be made available to third parties who do not have the resources needed to gather the information themselves but who would still very much need it for product development purposes.

The Use Of Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS): Translation into Practice – NEW

Objectives

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 more importantly, it will also explore the possibilities of data sharing amongst all stakeholders for the overall improvement of food safety.

Activity

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.

This activity is supported by ILSI Japan, ILSI North America and ILSI Southeast Asia Region.

Expected Output

The activity will result in a peer-reviewed publication discussing the potential uses and data gaps in the field on NGS. Additionally, it will result in a separate guidance document on NGS that will bring clarity on how the tools can be implemented and will provide guidance on its 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.

Activity

The experts will discuss and summarise the control options for viruses in different food processing systems. Data / knowledge gaps which need to be considered in order to determine specific performance objectives for viruses in foods will then be evaluated. In addition, the experts will also 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).

Expected Output

A scientific peer-reviewed publication will highlight features of foodborne viruses which contribute to their potential as foodborne disease agents, focusing on significant foodborne viruses (e.g. norovirus, hepatitis A and E viruses) and studying the epidemiology of foodborne viruses and methodological considerations. It will assess natural persistence, foods at risk and procedural technologies. Furthermore, the publication will highlight data gaps and challenges in experimental design and processing technologies and will pave the way forward to establish specific performance objectives. These could be useful references for food producers, food regulators and for risk assessment.

Industrial Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA)

Objectives

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.

Activity

Existing risk assessment tools will be 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.

Output

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. fresh produce, ready-to-eat meal, meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and dairy) in understanding and applying risk assessment to their specific processes will be envisaged. Ultimately, these publications should lead to safer food for the consumer.

Expert Group Members

The Use Of Meta-Analysis In Microbiological Risk Assessments – NEW
The list of expert group members will soon be available

The Use of Next-Generation Sequencies (NGS): Translation into Practice – NEW

Control Options for Viruses in Food Processing

Industrial Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA)

Publications

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.’

All Publications

The Role of Hazard- and Risk-Based Approaches in Ensuring Food Safety

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.

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