Food Safety Research

Our current food safety research projects are summarised below.
You can also search or browse our published food safety research.
Microbiological

Employing source attribution and molecular epidemiology to measure the impact of interventions on human campylobacteriosis in Scotland

This project was commissioned to examine the population genetics of Campylobacter isolated from clinical, food and environmental samples and to investigate epidemiological links and sources of Campylobacter infection.  The aim of the project is to type the strains of Campylobacter associated with human cases of infection and attribute them to their likely source and ascertain if there has been a change in the number of human cases associated with poultry strains.  The study addresses aspects of surveillance and monitoring by seeking to clarify the sources of human cases in the Grampian region of Scotland.  This research has served to underline the importance of chicken as the key source of Campylobacter infection in the Scottish population. It also highlights the dynamic nature of Campylobacter and the requirement to monitor prevalence, counts and strain types.  The findings from this study will be used to compare previous years of the source attribution research and provide baseline data against which the success of future ‘farm to fork’ interventions in the broiler industry can be measured

Factors affecting variations in Campylobacter disease rates in Scotland

A previous FSA funded research project used data collected from human cases of infection between 2000 and 2006, (age, sex, seasonality and location of cases) in combination with data on the distribution of potential risk factors such as private water supplies, animal densities, and measures of deprivation to develop statistical models. The results identified real differences in the geographic distribution of Campylobacter infection in Scotland, linked to differences in exposure to infection. One of the key findings was decreased reporting of Campylobacter infection in more deprived areas when compared to less deprived areas. However, it was not clear whether this was actually a true reflection of the disease incidence, an artefact of reporting, or a signature of differential health care uptake by these communities.  This further project will update the distribution of Campylobacter infection in Scotland using new descriptive and molecular epidemiological evidence to assess to what extent it is possible to correlate regional and socioeconomic factors with disease incidence, and identify the population groups in Scotland which are at the highest risk of infection.

Campylobacter colonisation of wild game pheasants processed in Approved Game Handling Establishments in Scotland and its relevance to public health

The aim of this project is to explore the role that pheasants play in Campylobacter infection in wild game birds in Scotland.  The study proposes to expand our knowledge base on wild game campylobacteriosis and will fill a current evidence gap on the strains of Campylobacter colonising pheasants and allow a comparison with strains found in other sources such as broiler chickens.  The project is a 2 year part-time MSc project being undertaken at the University of Edinburgh Vet School, and is due to finish in September 2015.

Research programme to improve our understanding of the factors which lead to E. coli O157 shedding by cattle and intervention strategies for on-farm control

This project seeks to address key gaps in our understanding of the factors which lead to supershedding in cattle and the contribution made by supershedders to transmission in animals, contamination of the food chain and human illness. The proposed research also aims to assist the FSA in determining how effective on-farm interventions would need to be to impact on the levels of VTEC entering the food chain, and which approaches would have the most potential for on-farm control of VTEC shedding in the UK.  This project started in January 2014, and will be completed in November 2017.  The project will aim to determine shedding and transmission dynamics by colonisation trials under controlled conditions, look at the comparison of human and bovine EHEC O157 strains (this will involve a survey of farms in England, Wales and Scotland) and to model on-farm interventions to determine strategies with potential of reducing human illness.

The extent and significance of internalisation of pathogens in salad plants

This project addresses evidence gaps in relation to the extent and significance of internalisation of pathogens in salad vegetables grown in field conditions. Laboratory evidence for the internalisation of Salmonella and E. coli has raised concerns over the implications for human health. However it is currently unclear how this evidence relates to the risks associated with field conditions and industry growing practices. The FSA’s Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) reviewed the evidence for internalisation during 2012 and recommended that further research would be beneficial in this area. This work will also address a recommendation made in the Scottish Government's VTEC Action Plan 'to improve understanding of the potential VTEC risks associated with unwashed and unpeeled fruit and vegetables on retail sale and the food safety implications of internalisation of VTEC by plants'. Improving our understanding of these risks will help in the identification of appropriate interventions for reducing pathogen risks in this area of food production. The project aims to provide robust risk assessment data that can be used by growers and producers, assist public health and any investigations of foodborne outbreaks. The project will look at assessing the pathogenic potential of internalised pathogens, the viability of internalised bacteria, determine internalised capability of VTEC into plant and look at how plant species and growth media affect internalisation phenotype of VTEC.

Shellfish

Understanding the factors governing Azadinium generated shellfish toxicity in Scottish waters

This project is a 3.5 year PhD studentship co-funded by FSAS with Scottish Association for Marine Science. The project will develop an understanding of the temporal and spatial dynamics of Azadinium, phytoplankton species producing known marine toxins (azaspiracids), in Scottish waters and of the environmental factors that govern these dynamics. A key outcome of this project will be evidence to allow targeted monitoring of Azadinium within the Scottish phytoplankton Official OC monitoring programme. This project will be completed in March 2017.

Authenticity

Survey of fish authenticity in the public procurement sector

We are developing a programme of projects to examine fish authenticity in Scotland, examining key points in the processing sector where we believe there are the greatest opportunities for fraud to occur, investigate where in the processing chain mis-description or mislabelling is most likely to occur, and examine previously unexplored areas and sectors. This programme of work will encompass two of the key recommendations of the Scudamore Report of the Expert Advisory Group 2013, i.e. to develop a better understanding of the supply chain and to improve surveillance.  Numerous studies and surveys have shown that it is possible to buy mislabelled fish and fish products in the shops, restaurants and takeaways of the UK. Fish mislabelling and fraud is of great concern for a number of reasons including undermining basic consumer rights and causing deflection in the free marketing of goods. It can also reduce consumer power to influence patterns of fish exploitation. Proper labelling can assist with the monitoring of industry, encourage high standards, help prevent fraud for economic gain, help conservation efforts and assist in preventing illegal, unreported or unregulated fish products from reaching the consumer. However, although we know mislabelling occurs at the point of sale, we have less intelligence where in the processing chain the product is mis-described. The first project is a Survey of Fish Species Authenticity in the Public Procurement Sector (school and hospital meals).