Quadram Institute hosts new UK Food Safety Network to tackle £9 billion food safety challenge

Food poisoning is a major health challenge costing the UK up to £9 billion each year. To help tackle the problem, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have invested £1.6 million into a new Food Safety Research Network, hosted by the Quadram Institute.

Quadram Institute Director, Professor Ian Charles, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded this £1.6m grant to help bring our cutting-edge scientific knowledge to the food industry and to help tackle major societal issues such as food safety and food waste.”

A scanning electron microscope image shows the characteristic spiral, or corkscrew, shape of Campylobacter jejuni cells and related structures. Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Photo by De Wood; digital colorization by Chris Pooley.

Foodborne illness key facts

• In the UK, estimates indicate there are 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness a year
• the estimated annual cost from these illnesses is £9 billion (with £6 billion from unidentified causes)
• Research shows that the cause of illness is often a microbial pathogen carried over into food from the environment, or from livestock, or even from people
• The microbes which cause the greatest economic impact are Campylobacter and Salmonella
• Food poisoning from Listeria is rare, but has a mortality rate of nearly 13 per cent
• Microbes also play a key role in food waste, with Pseudomonas accounting for 25 per cent of food spoilage.

One Health

Dr Matt Gilmour, Quadram Institute group leader and network lead, said: “The safety of our food is threatened by both enduring and emerging threats from microbes that contaminate our food. This threat is exemplified by microbes that spread between the environment, animals and humans – with foodborne exposures being a means for the transmission of pathogens and novel antimicrobial resistance genes from agriculture. The challenge is to take an integrated and unified approach to these problems right through from agriculture and the environment to food production and human health, in what’s termed a ‘One Health’ approach. To do that we need to collaborate with food and other associated industries to share research and innovation and deliver training activities.”

The UK Food Safety Research Network will connect food industry, food and health policymakers and academia to collaboratively pursue shared research priorities that will protect the UK from foodborne hazards. The network will serve as an innovation hub to coordinate and fund cross-sectoral research and training activities that address current and emerging challenges.

The network’s objectives are to:
• assemble a community of UK food producers, food policy makers and scientific researchers who collectively can take robust actions toward improving food safety
• identify areas of research need and opportunity that, in the view of food stakeholders and network members, will have meaningful impacts on UK food safety
• coordinate new collaborative research activities that will promote the application of science towards the food safety challenges identified by our food system community
• host training to promote skills development, interoperability and relationship-building between our food system community
• translate the knowledge generated within the network to food safety stakeholders, and to upcycle existing information and technologies relevant to food safety that have not yet been applied more broadly.

Professor Robin May, FSA Chief Scientific Adviser, said: “We are excited to partner with BBSRC and Quadram Institute for the creation of the UK Food Safety Research Network. Foodborne disease is a major cause of illness in the UK population and imposes a significant burden on both infected individuals and the economy. The network directly aligns with the core objectives of the FSA Strategy 2022-2027 to ensure food is safe and food is what it says it is. Importantly, the network will ensure that the FSA is well-placed to tackle the challenges of foodborne illnesses by bringing together experts from government, industry and academia to address current and emerging issues of food safety in the UK.”

Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC Executive Chair, commented: “Each year, food poisoning has a major impact on the health of UK citizens and the health of our economy. The new UK Food Safety Research Network presents a tangible and exciting opportunity for collaborations to form between a range of experts to improve our understanding of foodborne disease and identify new ways in which to effectively predict, prevent, respond and recover from such illnesses in the future.”

To find out more about the UK Food Safety Research Network, visit: quadram.ac.uk/food-safety-research-network/