I spend half my time working as Chief Scientific Advisor for Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and the rest of my time working for the University of Aberdeen. How and why is what I do at the University useful in my FSS work?
By way of an example, my recent published work on helping to understand Listeriosis across Europe links directly to my food safety role at FSS.
Listeriosis is a disease caused by eating certain foods, which may contain a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosis can be severe and result in a life-threatening illness, and usually affects vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and people with a weak immune system, particularly those over 60.
Listeria monocytogenes has been found in a range of chilled ready-to-eat foods, such as pre-packed sandwiches, pâté, butter, soft mould-ripened cheeses, cooked sliced meats and smoked salmon. Food businesses that produce these foods by law have to do so in a safe way, and FSS work with environmental health staff in Scottish local authorities to help businesses do this. Fortunately, Listeriosis is rare and in Scotland, only about 15 cases are reported each year.
Find out more information here
One of the great things about working at the University is supervising PhD students, and it is always a pleasure to see their work published in the scientific press. Miguel Bao has been working with me for the last three years on anisakiasis. This is a disease in humans caused by a parasitic worm that is found in some species of fish.
The good news is that cooking or freezing fish can kill the parasite, and also that anisakiasis is extremely rare in the UK. Work previously commissioned by FSS also found that whilst the parasite can be found in certain species of wild fish captured in Scottish waters, it does not present a risk in Scottish farmed fish, which are fed pelleted feed. This data was used to inform EU legislation which sets freezing requirements for fish intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked.
However, in some European countries there are traditional recipes where there is a risk of the disease. An example is a traditional Spanish dish of home-made anchovies in vinegar and eaten raw.
Miguel produced a risk assessment on the parasite from Spanish anchovy fisheries, consumption habits of the Spanish population and disease rates from hospitals. His findings showed there were approximately 8000 cases per year, which was much higher than previous estimates and could place a burden on the Spanish economy.
It is worth noting though that if you are on holiday in Spain and go to a restaurant and eat marinated anchovies in vinegar, there will be little risk to your health, because by law they have to be processed (i.e. frozen) first. It is always worth double-checking with the chef to ensure that this is the case. However, if you go to a Spanish home for a meal and they have prepared home-made marinated anchovies from fresh they are unlikely to have been frozen and this is where the risk is.
So this shows how the work I do at Aberdeen University adds value to my role at FSS.