Providing guidance on microbial food safety issues to support society in designing and implementing 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 will be 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

2016 Most-Downloaded Journal of Food Protection Publication Award was received 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’ (now available online), 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).

A series of Black & White Reports was produced which provide guidelines and frameworks on microbiological risk assessment and are actively used by industry, government, small and medium enterprises and academic professionals as training material. The US National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods uses the task force’s publications as reference texts to promote and share best practice in the food industry.

Collaboration with several international organisations such as FAO, WHO and seven other ILSI branches on water quality in fresh produce resulted in a publication providing empirical evidence for setting guidelines for water use in the fresh produce supply
(M. Uyttendaele et al., 2015).

Foodborne illnesses may originate from poor water quality used in fresh produce production. The task force published a paper in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety (A. de Keuckelaere et al., 2015) on microbial risk assessment (MRA). The main aim of MRA is to support risk management by providing an objective, transparent, evidence-based assessment of the health risk of (different) exposure pathways/scenarios.

What’s New

New activity on ‘Next Generation Sequencing (NGS): Translation into Practice’. The activity will produce an opinion paper 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

Dr Anett Winkler – Chair Mondelēz Europe DE
Prof. Marcel Zwietering – Vice-Chair University of Wageningen NL
Dr Alejandro Amezquita Unilever UK
Dr Roy Betts* Campden BRI UK
Dr Laurence Blayo Nestlé CH
Dr Christophe Dufour Institut Mérieux (bioMérieux Industry) FR
Ms Elissavet Gkogka Arla Foods DK
Dr Kristel Hauben Mars Chocolate BE
Dr Myriam Paris Danone FR
Dr Trevor Phister PepsiCo International UK
Ms Lilou van Lieshout ILSI Europe BE

*Scientific Advisor

Expert Groups

The Use of Next-Generation Sequencies (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 in 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 food associated environment, the application of these tools to improve the food safety risk assessment / management options has to be investigated. Based on the above, the expert group will address some of the questions thrown up 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 provide guidance to industry on generation of sequence information, bioinformatics analyses and biological interpretation of data employed in NGS analysis.

To investigate how metagenomics applications / research of food and food associated environmental microbial community can contribute to improvement of risk assessment and risk management options.

Output

The activity will result in a 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 metagenomics applications are still in early stages, the inputs provided by this expert group will help steer the research in this area to exploit its potential to become early adopters of the outcomes which may contribute to the betterment of food safety. 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 and applicable data and guidelines available 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 enable him / her to apply risk assessment to the sector in focus.

Expected 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 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, the use of these publications would lead to safer food for the consumer.

Expert Group Members

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

Dr Masami Takeuchi – Chair Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) IT
Dr Balamurugan Jagadeesan – Vice-Chair Nestlé CH
Prof. Frank Aarestrup Technical University of Denmark (DTU) DK
Dr Marc Allard Food and Drug Administration (FDA) US
Dr Alejandro Amezquita Unilever UK
Dr Samuel Chaffron University of Nantes FR
Dr Lay Jing Chai University of Malaya MY
Dr Peter Gerner-Smidt Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) US
Prof. Dag Harmsen Münster University Hospital DE
Dr Mitsuru Katase Fuji Oil Co., Ltd. JP
Dr Bon Kimura Tokyo University of Marine Science & Technology JP
Mr Sebastien Leuillet Institut Mérieux (Mérieux NutriSciences) FR
Dr Myriam Paris Danone FR
Dr Trevor Phister PepsiCo International UK
Dr Silin Tang Mars Chocolate PRC
Dr Jos van der Vossen The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) NL
Dr Anett Winkler Mondelēz Europe DE
Dr Yinghua Xiao Arla Foods DK
Ms Lilou van Lieshout ILSI Europe BE

Control Options for Viruses in Food Processing

Dr Trevor Phister – Chair PepsiCo International UK
Prof. Albert Bosch – Vice-Chair University of Barcelona ES
Ms Elissavet Gkogka Arla Foods DK
Dr Fabienne Hamon Institut Mérieux (bioMérieux Industry) FR
Dr Alvin Lee Institute for Food Safety and Health US
Dr Soizick Le Guyader Safety, Environment & Microbiology Laboratory (IFREMER) FR
Dr Balkumar Marthi Unilever NL
Dr Mette Myrmel Norwegian School of Veterinary Science NO
Ms Annette Sansom Campden BRI UK
Dr Anna Charlotte Schultz Technical University of Denmark DK
Dr Anett Winkler Mondelēz Europe DE
Dr Sophie Zuber Nestlé CH
Ms Lilou van Lieshout ILSI Europe BE

Industrial Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA)

Prof. Marcel Zwietering – Chair University of Wageningen NL
Dr Jean-Christophe Augustin Ecole Nationale Vététrinaire d’Alfort (ENVA) FR
Dr John Basset Scientific Advisor UK
Dr Roy Betts Campden BRI UK
Dr Christophe Dufour Institut Mérieux (bioMérieux Industry) FR
Ms Elissavet Gkogka Arla Foods DK
Dr Jim Monaghan Harper Adams University UK
Ms Lilou van Lieshout ILSI Europe BE

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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