The €1.7m ($1.9m) Enterprise Ireland and industry funded program, Sequencing Alliance for Food Environments (SAFE), aims to develop a predictive software toolbox to enhance food quality and safety approaches, nationally and with global reach, using environmental intelligence data.
SAFE is a partnership between the UCD Centre for Food Safety; six leading food and nutrition companies; Dairygold, Dawn Farm Foods, Glanbia, Kerry, Mead Johnson Nutrition and Nutrition Supplies; and Creme Global, suppliers of predictive intake modelling software.
Developing new software
Food manufacturing and processing facilities contain millions of bacteria, most of which are neither harmful to food nor to human health. However, a food quality and food safety risk is triggered when harmful bacteria, which can spoil food or pose a threat to health, enter food production facilities.
Current methods used to control such bacteria are neither rapid nor specific. They also use large amounts of energy, water and chemicals, none of which are sustainable or environmentally friendly.
The SAFE program aims to develop a new food safety and quality decision-making software toolbox to mitigate against the risk of bacterial contamination in the food supply chain in a smarter, faster, and more specific and sustainable way.
Over a two-year period, UCD researchers will track the environments in some food manufacturing plants in Ireland belonging to the industry partners. These plants include infant formula grade ingredient plants, a cooked and fermented meat processing plant and a precision vitamin and mineral pre-mix manufacturing facility.
Seasonal and climate changes will be taken into consideration, as such changes can cause shifts in the microbial communities or “microbiome” of the facilities. These changes affect food quality, safety and the nutritional profile of the final product.
By mapping these microbiomes, the consortium will develop databases that leverage gene sequencing technology and statistical analysis to define bacterial characteristics at the DNA level.
These databases will then be used to develop a predictive software toolbox. This will enable quicker and more accurate quality control analysis of the bacteria present in food facilities. The consortium says that this will create a quicker and more sustainable response to prevent bacteria that can spoil food or pose a human health risk entering the food supply chain.