SAFE: Sequencing Alliance for Food Environments

27th April 2016 


The €1.7 million Enterprise Ireland and industry funded programme, Sequencing Alliance for Food Environments (SAFE), aims to develop a new predictive software toolbox to enhance food quality and safety approaches, nationally and with global reach, using environmental intelligence data.

SAFE is a unique partnership between Institute Scientists headed by Professor Shea Fanning, six leading food and nutrition companies; Dairygold, Dawn Farm Foods, Glanbia, Kerry, Mead Johnson Nutrition and Nutrition Supplies, along with Creme Global, experts in predictive intake modelling software.

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Pictured (l-r) Cian O’Mahony, Chief Science Officer, Creme Global; Dr Eimear Downey, Technical Advisor, Nutrition Supplies; Gearóid Mooney, Director of Research and Innovation, Enterprise Ireland; Professor Séamus Fanning, and PhD student Joao Anes.

 

Food manufacturing and processing facilities contain millions of different bacteria, most of which are neither harmful to food nor to human health. However, a food quality and food safety risk is triggered when harmful bacteria, which can spoil food or pose a threat to human health, enter food production facilities.

Current methods used to control such bacteria are neither sufficiently rapid nor specific. They also use large amounts of energy, water and chemicals none of which are sustainable or kind to our environment.

The SAFE programme aims to develop a new state-of-the-art food safety and quality decision making software toolbox to mitigate against the risk of bacterial contamination in the food supply chain in a smarter, faster and in a more specific and sustainable way.

During a 2-year period researchers at UCD will track the environments in a number of food manufacturing plants in Ireland belonging to the industry partners. These plants include infant formula grade ingredient plants, a cooked and fermented meat processing plant and a precision vitamin and mineral pre-mix manufacturing facility.

Seasonal and climate changes will be taken into consideration during this period as such changes can cause shifts in the microbial communities or “microbiome” of the facilities. These changes affect food quality, safety and the nutritional profile of the final product. 

By mapping these microbiomes across the seasons the consortium will develop databases whichleverage gene sequencing technology and statistical analysis to define bacterial characteristics at the DNA level.

These databases will then be used to develop a predictive software toolbox. This toolbox will enable quicker and more accurate quality control analysis of the bacteria present in food facilities. This will prevent bacteria which can spoil food or pose a human health risk entering the food supply chain in a faster and a more sustainable way.

Professor Fanning said, “I am excited about the possibilities of what this research can deliver. This programme positions UCD researchers and our Irish food industry and software research collaborators at the forefront of surveillance with the potential to use this data to control their production environments and protect their consumers. It is a proactive move, rather than a reactive one and our collaborators and Enterprise Ireland are to be acknowledged for taking this step. In harnessing this technology, this project will place Ireland’s food industry at the leading-edge of regulatory science.”

Director of Research and Innovation at Enterprise Ireland, Gearóid Mooney, said, “Ireland needs to take a global lead on the deployment of quality management and traceability technologies within our food manufacturing facilities. By developing a state of the art safety and quality decision making toolset to mitigate the risk of contamination in the food supply chain, this project demonstrates a new level of partnership, collaboration and joined up thinking between our client companies and our research institutes. The collaborators are to be commended for their support and participation in this exciting project.”

“A key role of Enterprise Ireland is to support the development of innovation and Enterprise Ireland’s commitment of over €1 million to this Innovation Partnership project, builds on our investment in the Food for Health Ireland Technology Centre at UCD, and will enhance Ireland’s reputation of strong innovation and regulation in food safety.”