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.

The risk of STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli) contamination in wild venison

In 2015, there was an outbreak of E. coli O157 (STEC) associated with the consumption of venison products in Scotland. During the investigation of this incident, FSS identified a number of gaps in our knowledge regarding the risks of STEC contamination in venison in Scotland.

The aim of this project is improve our understanding of the risks of contamination of venison meat in Scotland in order to find ways to mitigate these risks.

The project comprises three parts; (i) a literature review to map the venison industry in Scotland, (ii) a field study to assess STEC prevalence in wild deer faeces in Scotland and (iii) a review of the cross-contamination risks during the slaughter and production of venison.

This work is being undertaken by the Moredun Institute in collaboration with stakeholders from the venison industry and is part funded by the Scottish Government. It is due for completion by Summer 2019.

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.

Risk perceptions, risk communication strategies and consumer behaviours

Foodborne illness is an important public health concern in Scotland.  It is estimated there are 43,000 cases per year and 500 hospital admissions not to mention the individual pain, suffering and economic loss it causes.  One of the ways FSS tries to manage foodborne illness is through raising awareness of the risks and good food safety practices, however it can be difficult to change consumers behaviours.  Therefore it is important to have knowledge of how public awareness campaigns can be most successful and we can create effective risk communications.  This project is for a 3-year PhD studentship that is jointly funded by FSS and University of Stirling.  The main research questions to be addressed by this project are:

  1. Who are the key target population groups for food safety messaging in Scotland?
  2. How can we effectively tailor communication strategies for those sub-grouped within the population
  3. How can approaches from consumer economics and behavioural economics be used to develop effective risk communication strategies for different groups of people in the population?
  4. From the public’s perspective, what type of risk communication strategies are most acceptable and easy to understand?

This research started in October 2016 and is due to be completed in October 2019.



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.

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Scientists & Researchers

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.

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