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Improving Food Safety with alternative, sustainable and low-cost tools, methods and approaches: Priority topics in the EU


Table of Contents 1. Introduction to the European Association for Food Safety, SAFE consortium ................ 3 2. TOPIC: Consumer trust in the food chain ............................................................................... 4 3. TOPIC: Elimination of enterohemorrhagic pathogens from the fresh produce production chain ....................................................................................................................... 5 4. TOPIC: Employment of computational methods to mitigate food safety risks across the whole chain ............................................................................................................. 6 5. TOPIC: New technological approaches for reducing allergenic risk in foods .................. 7 The European Association for Food Safety ©2014 The SAFE Consortium Rue Vanderborght 20, 1081 Brussels Belgium SAFE Secretary General: Oddur Már Gunnarsson Chairman of the Executive Board: Begoña Pérez-Villarreal Please direct your questions to: (general information) (scientific information)

Introduction to the European Association for Food Safety, SAFE consortium

Food safety has been a priority of the European food sector for several decades, reflected in its emphasis in the successive Framework Programmes. Horizon 2020 continues this, yet less clearly, as food safety is now embedded into the areas of health and well-being and food security, rather than being mentioned as an area in its own right. The European Association for Food Safety, SAFE consortium, was founded in 2002 and is a consortium of research institutes who work on a wide variety of food safety-related issues, including many aspects of microbiology, toxicology, consumer sciences and nutrition. We see food safety broadly and are concerned with the safety of the entire food net, from before the farm to after the fork. SAFE consortium is a platform where authorities, industry and science meet on a neutral ground; as seen at the June 2013 presentation of our Vision Document, “Keeping Food Safety on the Agenda” (available at, SAFE consortium). SAFE members contribute to the content of SAFE´s policy papers which are presented at high profile events, and to SAFE’s annual programme at the Annual General Meeting. They have access to the SAFE Executive Board and they benefit from the unified SAFE voice that is the result of our activities. In 2013, we counted 13 member institutes throughout Europe and the Associated Countries and over 100 Individual Members. The SAFE consortium mission is to: ■■ Promote European food safety through cross domain cooperation and scientific excellence ■■ Influence policy makers by advocating for food safety to be high on the agenda in research programming. We have produced this document of priority topics in food safety for the near future because we want to stress that a continuing emphasis on food safety be adequately considered in Horizon 2020 Work Programmes.


TOPIC: Consumer trust in the food chain

Specific Challenge: Consumers continue to express concerns about the safety and nutritional quality of their food. This concern manifests in a variety of ways, from alterations in purchasing and preparation habits to more profound changes in lifestyle. An environment exists in which trust in the food chain and its actors is compromised. This is due In part to repeated and major food poisoning outbreaks and other scandals but is also accentuated by the fact that non-specialists lack first-hand insight into the details of the food production and supply system. This low-trust environment presents a potential barrier to the introduction of innovations that might benefit the consumer. Furthermore, in the past years, public authorities have been pushing the food and the feed industry to develop comprehensive quality management systems to improve food safety, restructure the food inspection system and try to enhance consumer information to regain consumers trust in food. Thus, strategies which increase engagement of the consumer in the food chain are required.

Scope: Proposals could include activities aimed at the following: ■■ Knowledge on the key drivers of consumer trust needs to be more fully defined. This should include analysis of variations in trust based on (1) perception of food quality (in terms of purchase criteria), (2) perception of food safety and health risks, (3) attitudes around food safety (e.g. attitude towards organic production, willingness to pay) and (4) attitudes towards communicators of food safety. This augmented knowledge can then form the basis for the design and trial of interventions to increase trust. ■■ Correlation of the demographic indicators associated with food safety and quality concerns (age, sex, people in household, marital status, work status, education, annual household income). ■■ Learning theory to explain how an individual’s risk perception changes over time. Psychometric studies on consumer perception of food risks to identify the most important factors influencing consumer perception. Due to recurring food safety incidents, it is likely that the consequences of a food safety event and an individual’s personal experience have an impact on responses to subsequent food safety cases. 4

■■ Analysis of the underlying reasons for the current status of consumer trust in the food chain should be combined in an integrated manner with testable strategies for raising this level of trust. Well-defined pilot projects of interventions, providing proof of concept (or not) will be within the scope of the project. It should address food safety and quality concerns of the population, government and industry.

Expected Impact: Proposals should provide a better understanding of the role of farmers, processors, wholesalers, distributors, regulatory agencies at all levels and consumers by creating new strategies in food safety and trust in the food chain. They should also provide a detailed understanding of the perceptions and attitudes and demographic indicators associated with consumer concerns and levels of importance placed upon the concerns to assist in more targeted educational campaigns. They will generate reliable, repeatable, validated, cost-efficient methods to collect consumer data on trust in the food production system and its actors. Finally, these proposals should contribute to the European standardization of consumer trust studies and to standardized methods for increasing and maintaining increased consumer trust.

TOPIC: Elimination of enterohemorrhagic pathogens from the fresh produce production chain Specific Challenge: During the last two decades, fresh produce has become increasingly popular among European consumers. This growing market faces constant challenges to ensure that these foods are safe for human consumption. Fruits and vegetables are unique foods in that they are often consumed raw or with minimal preparation. Thus, microbial intervention strategies previously developed for other foods are inadequate at providing the appropriate measures to eliminate the microbial food safety hazards associated with consumption of fresh produce. The occurrence of repeated European foodborne illness outbreaks associated with consumption of fresh produce is of particular concern. An example is the outbreak of E. coli O104:H4 that occurred in Germany from infected bean sprouts and caused 50 deaths and several thousand human cases (WHO).

Scope: Proposals could include activities aimed at the following: ■■ Understanding how natural, plant-inhabiting microorganisms (including plant pathogens) interact with human pathogens, including pathogen-plant interactions (internalization et al.) and their effect on decontamination processes. Since microorganisms growing on surfaces may produce biofilms, either alone or in combination with other microorganisms, the efficiency of decontamination processes may be strongly influenced. Special strategies for decontamination may be required if microorganisms can enter a commodity as opposed to residing on the surface of the product. Knowledge about conditions leading to internalization is required. ■■ Evaluating the impact of natural microflora on selected human pathogens during plant growth. The climatic change (model studies in high-performance controllable greenhouses), and postharvest phase of fruit and vegetables (in controlled temperature and humidity and in controlled atmosphere conditions) should be considered. ■■ Understanding the behavior of pathogens throughout the food chain; the impact of processing and storage conditions, tolerance/cross protection, single and mixed microbial populations, etc. in order to design safe, minimal and sustainable processing. Here, new advances in “omic” technologies would reveal key processes driven by both pathogens and spoilers.

■■ Optimization and testing of novel decontamination technologies (pulsed light, HPP, bacteriophages, cold plasma, microwaves, ozone) and preservation conditions (different packaging exploiting non-conventional packaging materials, anti-microbial compounds from natural origin ) at different scales including realistic conditions (e.g., safe pilot plants to produce safe food products.) ■■ Development and implementation of practical tools for predicting bacterial growth and inactivation rates of microorganisms in food products. “Technological variables” or processing factors should be included in the modelling. ■■ Development of advanced statistical models based on probabilistic approaches for the evaluation of microbial species development under different environmental conditions, leading to new predictive tools for improving safety in the food chain. The developed models should be validated for a range of products and the validated model(s) should be implemented in user-friendly computing tools. The program should simulate microbial population dynamics under fluctuating conditions.

Expected Impact: Proposals should generate an effective strategy to prevent contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables with food pathogens by developing detailed knowledge on the sources of contamination, entry points of pathogens in the production line, and factors that allow bacteria to survive on the surface of fresh produce and by developing effective food treatments that assure safe fruits and vegetables while preserving quality and sensorial properties (aroma, texture, color). Decreasing the amount of contaminated fresh produce will reduce food waste and increase food industry sustainability and confidence; together with increased product safety, these advances should lead to increased producer competiveness in the EU. An added societal benefit will be a decreased incidence of foodborne illness outbreaks, enhancing consumer safety and public health, and promoting increased confidence in the European food chain.


TOPIC: Employment of computational methods to mitigate food safety risks across the whole chain Specific Challenge: Shelf-life and safety prediction in the food chain require both adequate models of quality assurance and effective procedures for risk assessment. The past decade has seen rapid developments in risk assessment techniques and tools related to food safety. These advances are beginning to have a significant impact on the decision making processes used by risk managers in both government and industry. However, the highly complex issues involved in the management of food safety risks on an international basis are likely to require even more sophisticated assessments and equally sophisticated management tools. Models are already in use for monitoring food quality and safety although there are not models for everything, and the more complex the food i.e., large number of different ingredients and additives from different places, many and variable processing steps and procedures, the more difficult it is to model. Additionally, there is a lot of variability in the microbial response in complex foods, both in relation to inactivation and to the growth of resistant cells, in part because the role of interactions among different microbial populations is still unknown.

Scope: Proposals could include activities aimed at the following: ■■ Advance the adoption of current and effective risk analysis principles by learning how risk managers can best utilize the results of risk assessments. Here it is crucial to know what risk managers are doing now; and how this may differ based on geography and/or industry. Managers must take the results of complex stochastic models and adapt the findings to the binary decision criteria that are the basis for legal decisions. This requires a better articulation of key principles of food safety risk management including best practices for communication. ■■ Develop more realistic models for complex matrices. Improve microbial knowledge of single cells combined with studies of interactions in mixed microbiological populations. The behavior of microbes that cause food spoilage needs research as such, but also as a function of influencing other pathogens. ■■ Cross contamination issues. Advances in understanding of bacteria transfer (identify microbial hazards and ways of cross contamination in the whole food chain) combined with mathematical models. 6

■■ Develop computer tools which are easy to use by risk assessors and managers, to estimate and mitigate microbial risk in food.

Expected impact: Proposals should generate reliable, repeatable, validated, cost-efficient methods to collect data on current risk assessment methodologies and on the effectiveness of implementing new methods. Proposals should also generate effective monitoring of safety and quality all along the chain, including appropriate decision making tools at appropriate times, and effective reduction of food waste. Results may contribute to the European standardization of risk assessment studies and to standardized methods for increasing and maintaining optimal risk assessment. Results should also offer decisive advances in the assessment and management of the safety of food in Europe, demonstrating transparency with a scientific basis for making decisions.

TOPIC: New technological approaches for reducing allergenic risk in foods

Specific Challenge: Previous EU Projects focusing on food allergens and food allergy have covered i) risk assessment in food allergy, ii) food allergy prevalence in Europe, iii) food allergen characterization and iv) development of “classical” detection methods (particularly ELISA). Little research has explored the impact on food allergens of “old” (pressure-based, thermal-based) and novel (MW, US, cold plasma, pulsed fields, pulsed light, PATP, etc.) technological approaches nor the multiple enzymatic digestion of allergenic proteins (also assisted by previous technological treatments).

Scope: Proposals could include activities aimed at the following: ■■ The effective (or ineffective) impact of established and novel techniques (particularly green, sustainable and white/green biotechnology-based) on food proteins (isolated, both from natural and recombinant origin, or in food matrices) acting as allergens in foods. Additionally, the effect of enzymes (from animal, plant, fungal, insect, microbial and recombinant origin) on selected major/ minor allergens, in order to clarify i) the “in vivo real allergenicity” as well as highlighting ii) the possibility to treat allergenic proteins and food ingredients in order to decrease their allergenicity. Action in particularly difficult/complex matrices (e.g., wine, chocolate) would follow investigation in standard model systems. ■■ The impact of food processes and/or technologies (e.g., traditional and novel thermal and non-thermal treatments) on protein allergenicity (reduction or neo-allergen formation). The possibility of food-related technologies to reduce/increase allergenicity should be tested in different food matrices. Additionally, changes in allergenicity should be related to modifications in detection by commercial methods as common detection methods may not detect modified allergens (e.g., allergenicity vs. immunoreactivity). ■■ The development of hypoallergenic or “tolerable” foods and new ingredients/ food additives/ enzymes through the application of traditional or novel technologies (e.g., traditional or novel thermal and non-thermal treatments) to decrease the allergenicity of known allergenic proteins (e.g., wheat flours, egg proteins, animal gelatine) in specific meals, and in technological processing of some foods (the

evaluation of new substitutive non-allergenic additives/ adjuvants will be a key topic too). Here, technological effects must be considered alongside possible interactions of ingredients used for allergenicity reduction and assessment of chemical, biochemical and technological properties should be done in food model systems. Complementary studies concerning real allergenicity (in vitro/ex vivo/in vivo) of isolated proteins and/or complex food matrices should be included, particularly considering the effect of animal (human) digestive enzymes/conditions on allergens of different origins (natural, isolated or/and contained in complex matrices, processed or not processed) using in vivo and ex-vivo models. ■■ The development of new strategies to reduce “hidden” contamination in food processing plants, particularly developing performance monitoring systems, cleaning validation protocols and optimising methods to apply these techniques in order to reduce risk. The development of new high-performance, robust analytical approaches for industrial “off-line” and “on line” monitoring (particularly first level array-based comprehensive methods), based on micro- and nano-technology should be included. ■■ The harmonization of “food allergen detection in Europe”, via comparative, proficiency and ring tests and strictly correlating this action to the development of certified reference standards.

Expected Impact: This research will generate reliable, validated, cost-efficient, harmonized and ready-to-use methods (based e.g. on technological, genomic, metabolomic and other tools) to detect known, novel and “hidden” allergens and will provide alternative foods or food ingredients to replace known allergens. New approaches for the reduction of immunogenicity and allergenicity capacity will be explored, identifying new technological methods and new strategies (also alternative non-allergenic adjuvants with high-performance technological properties). Results will potentially feed into standardization activities and the regulatory framework related to allergen identification at the EU level and potentially international level. Consumer confidence in the safety of food products and the lifestyle of millions of EU citizens with food allergies will be improved. 7

The European Association for Food Safety

SAFE consortium members: AZTI-Tecnalia Spain, Food and Marine Technological Centre DAA Italy, The Agrofood Department Italian National Research Council (CNR) DFB Center Italy, Drug and Food Biotechnology Center ESB Portugal, College of Biotechnology of the Catholic University of Portugal IBA Romania, National Institute of Research & Development for Food Bioresources IRTA Spain, Research Institute of the Department of Agriculture Government of Catalonia MATIS Iceland, Icelandic Food and Biotech R&D Company NOFIMA Norway, Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research PAN Poland, Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research SIK Sweden, The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology TNO The Netherlands, Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TÜBITAK MAM Turkey, TÜBITAK Marmara Research Centre

Improving Food Safety  

This March 2014 position paper: Improving Food Safety with alternative, sustainable and low-cost tools, methods and approaches: Priority top...