Food safety research

A summary of our current food safety research projects.


Microbiological Survey of Minced Beef on Retail Sale in Scotland

The aim of this survey is collect data on the microbiological quality of retail beef mince on sale in Scotland. Although retail mince is labelled that it must be fully cooked before consumption, there is still a possibility that a consumer may not fully cook the product, or that any pathogens present may cross-contaminate other foods in the kitchen. This could result in illness if the mince were to be contaminated.

The primary objective of this survey is to generate baseline data on the prevalence of pathogens and hygiene indicator organisms in mince beef on retail sale. A secondary objective is to see if there are any patterns in the variation (such as seasonal changes) in order to identify any risk factors associated with microbiological contamination.

This will be done by undertaking a comprehensive survey of the microbiological pathogens STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli), campylobacter, Salmonella and hygiene indicator organisms (generic E. coli and aerobic colony counts) in beef mince at retail across a range of retailers and geographic locations in Scotland. Furthermore, all of the pathogens detected and a subset of 100 isolates of generic E. coli will be tested for antimicrobial resistance.

The survey will be carried out between January-December 2019 by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and partners in collaboration with Public Analysis labs. The results and analysis are due to be published by summer 2020.

Using NHS Data to monitor trends in the occurrence of severe, food induced allergic reactions

FSS are supporting FSA with a project they commissioned in October 2019 (work conducted by Imperial College London) to monitor food allergic reactions and specifically severe reactions.  Because severe reactions are rare collecting data on them can be difficult.  Non-severe food allergic reactions are more common but it is hard to capture information on the circumstances of the reactions due to the current diagnosis coding system used in the NHS.

This project will address two key questions:

  1. What are the trends in the occurrence of food hypersensitivity reactions (including those due to IgE-mediated food allergy), and its consequences in terms of healthcare encounters (both to hospital and primary care)?
  2. What are the circumstances surrounding severe, life-threatening reactions to food?

This project is due to be completed in September 2022.

Whole genome sequencing of Scottish salmonella

Salmonella is an established pathogen, which has the ability to cause outbreaks of infections. The most common route of transmission of Salmonella infection in humans is through consumption of contaminated food. The number of reported Salmonella cases to Health Protection Scotland (HPS) varies between 750 – 850 cases per year. The two most common serotypes causing Salmonella infection in Scotland are Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium. However more than 2 500 serotypes have been described for Salmonella, with approximately 100 serotypes responsible for human infections. Little is known about these rare serotypes. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) can be used to examine Salmonella isolates at the genetic level and relatedness analyses can determine how the isolates might be linked. Obtaining this information will greatly improve our understanding of the current picture of Salmonella infection in Scotland.

The primary objective of this project is to characterise Scottish clinical, food and environmental Salmonella isolates including serotype, subtype, markers of pathogenicity and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes. The newly obtained sequencing results will also be compared with Salmonella strains previously isolated and sequenced in the UK and internationally to examine suspected historical outbreaks of Salmonella infection in Scotland.

This will be done by undertaking a comprehensive sequencing and bioinformatic analysis of a specially selected subset of Salmonella strains, stored in the Scottish Reference SMiRL collection.

This project will be carried out by the Scottish Salmonella, Shigella & C. difficile Reference Laboratory (SSSCDRL). The complete analysis and report are due to be published.


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.

EU baseline survey of Norovirus in oysters

Noroviruses (NoV) are known to be a primary cause of ‘winter vomiting disease’ due to rapid spread in human population, particularly in the winter months. They are primarily spread through the faecal-oral route, either by the consumption of contaminated food or water, or by spreading directly from person to person. Many different foods have been associated with NoV outbreaks. Raspberries and oysters have been implicated in national and international outbreaks. Bivalve molluscs are known to concentrate NoV particles while filter feeding, with oysters posing a particular risk due to being routinely eaten raw. The current survey is part of a 2 year project to establish the prevalence of Norovirus  in EU oysters. This data was requested by the European Commission and covers 171 production areas and 197 dispatch centres across Europe, including 14 harvesting areas and 1 dispatch centre from Scotland.  The aims are to assess the proportion of EU classified production areas with NoV contamination, and assess the proportion of batches of final product at approved EU dispatch centres with NoV contamination. The project will be complete in November 2018.

You can also search or browse our published food safety research.

Risk assessment of the Scottish monitoring programme for marine biotoxins in shellfish harvested from classified production areas 

The aim of this study was to assess the Scottish monitoring programme for biotoxins in shellfish from classified inshore production areas in Scotland. This programme, conducted by Food Standards Scotland (FSS), determines the prevalence in both farmed and wild bivalve molluscs of the following:

  • paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) which is responsible for paralytic shellfish poisoning
  • domoic acid (DA) which is responsible for amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP)
  • lipophilic toxins (LT), some of which are responsible for diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP)

Read more about the biotoxin risk assessment and access the full report.

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All our decisions are based on evidence. We support and use relevant research and ensure that our policy decisions allow consumers to make informed choices.