UCD and Enterprise Ireland announce €1.7m food safety partnership

Posted April 28, 2016

  • €1.7 million provided by Enterprise Ireland and industry partners
  • Programme will develop software to reduce contamination risk in food suply chain

University College Dublin will lead a food quality and safety partnership aimed at reducing the risk of bacterial contamination in the food supply chain.

The Sequencing Alliance for Food Environments (SAFE) Innovation Partnership Programme has received €1.7 million from Enterprise Ireland and six industry partners. It will take place over three years.
 
SAFE is a partnership between UCD Centre for Food Safety, Creme Global and six leading food and nutrition companies.

The companies include Dairygold, Dawn Farm Foods, Glanbia, Kerry Group, Mead Johnson Nutrition and Nutrition Supplies. Creme Global are experts in predictive intake modelling software.

Pictured top (l-r): Cian O'Mahony, Chief Science Offer, Creme Global; Dr Eimear Downey, Technical Advisor, Nutrition Supplies;
Gearóid Mooney, Director of Research and Innovation, Enterprise Ireland; Prof Séamus Fanning, UCD Professor of Food Safery; UCD PhD student João Anes.

SAFE aims to develop a predictive software toolbox to enhance food quality and safety approaches using environmental intelligence data.

Food manufacturing and processing facilities contain millions of different bacteria. Most of these are neither harmful to food or human health.

Risks arise when when harmful bacteria enters food production facilities. This can spoil food and pose a threat to human health.
 
Current methods used to control such bacteria are not sufficiently quick or specific. They also use large amounts of energy, water and chemicals. These are not sustainable and can harm the environment.


“This programme positions UCD researchers, 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,” said Professor Séamus Fanning, UCD Professor of Food Safety, UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science.

“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.”

The SAFE programme aims to develop a new state-of-the-art food safety and quality decision making software toolbox.

This will mitigate against the risk of bacterial contamination in the food supply chain in a smarter, faster and more specific way. It will also improve sustainability.
 
UCD researchers will track the environments in a number of food manufacturing plants in Ireland during a two-year period. These plants belong to the industry partners involved in the programme.

They 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. These changes can cause shifts in the microbial communities or “microbiome” of the facilities and affect food quality, safety and the nutritional profile of the final product. 

By mapping these microbiomes across the seasons the consortium will develop databases which leverage 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.
 
“Ireland needs to take a global lead on the deployment of quality management and traceability technologies within our food manufacturing facilities,” said Director of Research and Innovation at Enterprise Ireland, Gearóid Mooney.

“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.”

Facilitated by Food for Health Ireland (FHI), Enterprise Ireland’s largest Food Technology Centre, this innovation partnership programme demonstrates a new level of international partnership, open innovation and pre-competitive research between industries and academia across multiple sectors.

By: Jonny Baxter, digital journalist, UCD University Relations