The Future of Food Safety - A New Approach to Pathogen Challenge Testing

24 Nov 2012
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Leatherhead’s new pilot plant facility is an exciting new solution to pathogen challenge testing available to the global food, drink and related industries. Combining a new containment level II Pathogen Pilot Plant facility, plus Leatherhead’s extensive expertise in food safety, the service will enable clients to validate methods, processes and/or equipment involving pathogenic and/or substitute micro-organisms.

The facility expands Leatherhead’s currently available laboratory-based capabilities to deliberately contaminate both conventional and new food products with pathogens in order to investigate the fate of such micro-organisms under selected processing and storage conditions.

“The new pilot plant facility will allow us to contaminate anything from dry ingredients to ready meals to equipment surfaces with pathogenic bacteria and study the effects of processing, packaging and storage,” says Dr Evangelia Komitopoulou, Head of Food Safety. “This will allow for more accurate studies and validation of pathogen behavior in food, helping us to identify critical control points as well as help manufacturers at the very early stages of new process/product/method or equipment development.”

An example of work to be carried out within the new facility involves the systematic evaluation of heat resistance and survival of food-borne pathogens in a selection of low-moisture foods; a project which forms part of Leatherhead’s annual Member Forum Research programme.

Pathogen survival data in low-moisture foods mainly involves recovery data obtained following prolonged storage at specified conditions. Leatherhead’s project involves a systematic evaluation of survival through storage and heat resistance of representative outbreak Salmonella strains (e.g. S. Oranienburg, S. Montevideo, S. Enteritidis), L. monocytogenes), as dry ingredients can be a source of contamination of chilled foods, as well as Escherichia coli and Cronobacter sakazakii. Members were asked to indicate their preference of low-moisture foods that they would like to see included in the project.

Dr Komitopoulou continues: “We are excited about adding to the current body of scientific research on food micro-organisms, and being one of the first to undertake systematic research into the survival and resistance trends of micro-organisms both in dry matrices and other products in the longer term. Our work will cover the whole process, from growing micro-organisms, evaluating the best inoculation methodology and investigating the best recovery conditions.”

Watch the video to hear Chief Executive Professor Paul Berryman and Dr Evangelia Komitopoulou being interviewed by SelectScience about the Pathogen Pilot Plant at Leatherhead’s Members-only Food Innovation Day in September.

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