UK Food Safety Research Network

Lead Research Organisation: Quadram Institute Bioscience
Department Name: Microbes in the Food Chain


The UK has a strong commitment to food safety, with food manufacturers being entirely focused on making foods that are healthy and safe for their customers. With the assistance of government departments, there are many programmes in place to regulate how food is produced and to monitor for hazards that might contaminate foods. However, we also know from studies in the UK that it is common for people to visit their GP with food-associated illness and that about a quarter of the UK population have diarrhoea each year. The causes of these cases are rarely determined, and of the estimated £9B annual cost to the UK from these illnesses, £6B are from unknown causes. In studies that were able to look much closer at some cases, the cause of illness was often a microbial pathogen that carried over into food from the environment or from livestock or even from people. Therefore, some hazards such as bacteria are both a challenge to detect and are a challenge to control from entering the food chain. These challenges are only becoming more complex as the food chain evolves in response to new ways of producing foods, new food preferences by consumers, and climate changes that impact the ecology of food. In association with UKRI-BBSRC and the Food Standards Agency, Quadram Institute Bioscience in Norwich is proposing to establish over a 2-year period a new 'UK Food Safety Research Network'. Acting as a hub for scientific innovation and collaborative research to address these complex challenges, the Network will create a community between food industry, government departments, and scientists to create a shared vision and plan for research that can improve the safety of foods now and in the future.

To establish this functional community, the Network will progress through steps of:

Taking a broad view on the leaders who can impact food safety: the Network will identify the landscape of existing food networks and food safety stakeholders from industry, academia, and government sectors, and from therein, activate a critical mass of experts spanning multiple disciplines to form a Network for collaborative innovation and knowledge exchange activities. We will be inclusive of the 'One Health' disciplines that consider the sciences of the environment, animals, and human health.

Identifying areas of opportunity and need for food safety research: the members of the Network will bring their experience and perspectives to identify food safety challenges that can be translated to research and training priorities. We believe that members will be motivated to participate in this problem definition phase of the Network because research priorities will be set against routes to impact by virtue of participation from food system stakeholders at all stages.

Harnessing interdisciplinary talents to drive collaborative projects: the Network will pursue our research priorities with programmes that fund proof-of-concept and other similar projects that act under a 'culture of innovation' to draw upon the insights, data, and technologies from across the Network members' organisations, disciplines, and levels of seniority.

Enhancing the food safety community by implementing and developing skills from Network discoveries: the Network will extend the methods and knowledge developed in our collaborative research by hosting a series of different training events and by sponsoring the exchange of scientists and food industry employees between Network member sites. These programmes will actively support skill development on food safety and interoperability between Network partners.

Bringing forward the Network discoveries to shift the food safety field: the Network will be highly visible and have an active voice through web, audio, and video platforms to support Network engagement with policy makers and other funders. Network research and training outcomes will also be shared more broadly and publicly to further support food safety skill development.

Technical Summary

The food system comprises many social, environmental, and political factors that together affect the foods that are produced and the foods that are sought by consumers. Amongst these overlapping domains of a massive and complex system, there are multiple points where challenges to food safety emerge and endure. As examples, climatic changes can have both immediate and longer-term impacts to food composition when carbon and temperature cycles change and new toxins appear in both aqua- and agriculture. Or, consumer preferences for non-meat protein alternatives that create a large market shift to new classes of foods made through new processes could impart unbeknownst toxin, chemical or microbial hazards. Another example is the use of antibiotics, which might lead to resistant pathogens persisting in food animals, their feedstock, and food production facilities which can each lead to our exposure to foodborne pathogens. All of these challenges - and many others - represent an opportunity of study and for the identification of new interventions or policies that could improve the safety of food. And all of these challenges represent a view on emerging food safety risks that, to be appropriately considered and studied, require participation from a multitude of stakeholders and scientific disciplines.

It is the goal of the Network to establish a multi-stakeholder approach to apply science to the food safety challenges prioritised within this community as areas where collaborative research could make a positive impact to food safety. Within the Network, policy and industry sectors will come together with academic research through problem definition exercises, funded collaborative research projects, and food safety training fora. The Network will collect and act on old and new data regarding food safety risks and then mobilise the developed information and knowledge within their community and target it towards action by food and health policy makers.


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