Welcome to the Food & Health Network, a knowledge exchange network from the Institute of Food Research.

The Food & Health Network (FHN) provides a forum for knowledge exchange within industry and academia.  Where science makes a real contribution to industrial effectiveness and sustainability.

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Food Safety Centre at the Institute of Food Research


The main aims of the Food Safety Centre are three fold:

  • To allow industry to benefit from access to international expertise in food safety and security
  • To Advise government departments and regulators in the areas of food safety and security
  • To develop research collaborations with other academic institutions to maximise research in the areas of food safety and security

Expertise includes:
Bacterial food pathogens including clostridium botulinum, Campylobacter and Salmonella

  • Predictive Microbiology and QMRA
  • Microbial Tracing
  • Food Authentication
  • Spoilage investigations

Food Safety Centre, Norwich is led by Professor Mike Peck, Director and Elizabeth Saggers, Deputy Director.
For more information please contact: info.foodsafety@ifr.ac.uk

POSITIVe COST action – first newsletter

The POSITIVe COST action has just published their first newsletter. The aim of the project is to build an open European scientific network to tackle the question of the inter-individual variation in response to plant food bioactives consumption.

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New study reveals unusual enzyme activity of gut bacteria

In an exciting new study published yesterday in the journal Nature Communications GHFS Research Leader Dr Nathalie Juge and her team have revealed an unusual enzymatic activity in gut bacteria Ruminococcus gnavus.


Below Nathalie blogs about the study, and how it could ultimately offer insights beyond correlations between Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and changes in the microbiota.

“Our study uncovers a previously unrecognized enzymatic activity in the gut microbiota, which may contribute to the adaptation of intestinal bacteria to the mucosal environment in health and disease.

The importance of the gut microbiota in modulating human health and disease has permeated many scientific disciplines, and raised a wide interest in the industry and the public.  Importantly, there is an urgent need, yet to be addressed, to move from association or correlation studies to mechanistic studies. This is essential if we want to be in a position to devise meaningful strategies to modulate gut bacteria composition, especially at the mucosal interface where bacteria are likely to have highest impact on human health, due to their proximity to the host immune system.

Cartoon representation of Ruminoccocus gnavus intramolecular trans-sialidase, 3-dimensional structure.  Catalytic shown in green and inserted domain in red.  The trans-glycosylation product of the reaction, 2,7-anhydro-Neu5Ac, is shown bound into the active site.

Cartoon representation of Ruminoccocus gnavus intramolecular trans-sialidase, 3-dimensional structure. Catalytic shown in green and inserted domain in red. The trans-glycosylation product of the reaction, 2,7-anhydro-Neu5Ac, is shown bound into the active site.

The gastrointestinal (GI) mucus layer is colonized by a dense community of microbes catabolizing dietary and host carbohydrates during their expansion in the gut. Alterations in mucosal carbohydrate availability impact on the composition of microbial species. Ruminococcus gnavus is a commensal anaerobe present in the GI tract of more than 90% of healthy humans and overrepresented in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). In our previous work (Crost et al., 2013), we showed that the ability of R. gnavus to utilise mucin as carbon source was strain dependent. Here we showed, using a combination of genomics, enzymology and crystallography, that the mucin-degrader R. gnavus ATCC 29149 strain produces an intramolecular trans-sialidase (IT-sialidase) that cleaves off terminal α2-3 linked sialic acid from glycoproteins, releasing 2,7-anhydro-Neu5Ac instead of sialic acid in the case of traditional sialidases. This IT-sialidase confers R. gnavus with a nutritional competitive advantage over its competitors, by preferentially accessing this nutrient rather than sharing free sialic acid with other members of the microbiota present in the mucosal environment. This is the first report of such enzymatic activity in the gut microbiota. Bioinformatics analyses revealed that IT-sialidases is not limited to R. gnavus but present across Firmicutes members. The specific niche colonization of these bacteria may reflect an adaptation to particular mucus glycosylation profiles. Indeed evidence of IT-sialidases in human metagenomes indicates that this enzyme occurs in healthy subjects but is more prevalent in IBD metagenomes. This enzyme may thus represent a novel biomarker for IBD.

The molecular target (IT-sialidase), identified and characterized in our work, provides mechanistic insights into the adaptation of gut bacteria to changes in the mucosal environment occurring in IBD or during infection, and thus a lead for treating gut-related diseases. The experimental dissection of the IT-sialidase provides a structural basis for its role and a target that can be explored by all interested in the analysis of the human microbiome or specific bacterial strains.”

Written by Dr Nathalie Juge, July 2015

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Synchronising Salmonella’s infection strategy

Research on improving food safety is an integral part of the GHFS Programme, a strategic programme funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (S. Typhimurium) is a major pathogen of animals and man in both industrial and developing nations. Part of what makes this pathogen so successful is its ability to invade our bodies and overcome our natural defences. Understanding how it does this could lead to new ways of preventing invasion and consequent infection.

Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) image of Salmonella (Image: Kathryn Cross, IFR)

Most Salmonella infections result in gastroenteritis when the bacteria invade the epithelial cells lining our gut. However, under certain conditions, Salmonella can subsequently cause a potentially lethal systemic typhoidal infection when they invade and grow within host cells of the monocyte/granulocyte lineage, including macrophages. Invasion of epithelial cells requires a cluster of genes localised in ‘Salmonella pathogenicity Island 1’ (SPI1), whereas replication and dissemination in macrophages requires a separate cluster of genes encoded within  ‘Salmonella pathogenicity Island 2’ (SPI2). Some of the the genes within SPI1 and SPI2 encode a type III secretion system which injects effector proteins into the host cell resulting in either uptake of Salmonella (SPI1) or manipulation of the host cell environment to enable intracellular growth and subsequent dissemination of Salmonella (SPI2). Control of the expression of SPI1 and SPI2 is complex and occurs via a variety of factors, including proteins and alarmones, operating at transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels in response to the internal environmental stimuli of the host. Alarmones are small molecules in bacteria that are produced as a result of stress to the bacteria and act to alter gene expression within the bacteria. For example, we have previously shown that the alarmone ppGpp is required for the expression of nearly all of the genes within SPI1 and SPI2 as well as many other Salmonella-virulence related genes.

Until now, it has been unclear how the expression of SPI1 and SPI2 genes are synchronised to facilitate invasion by the bacteria and the subsequent development of a systemic infection.  A new study, published in PLOS ONE, from Dr Arthur Thompson’s group within the GHFS Programme at the Institute of Food Research, has shown how two proteins (RpoS and DksA) and the alarmone ppGpp work together to modulate and thus coordinate the expression of SPI1 and SPI2 genes. This enables the ‘phased’ expression of SPI1 and SPI2 to facilitate Salmonella’s infection strategy.

Dr Arthur Thompson

Dr Thompson commented

We’ve shown, for the first time, how RpoS, DskA and ppGpp work together to synchronise expression of the SPI1 and SP12 genes to facilitate infection by this major pathogen. This is an important step in understanding the mechanism behind infection by Salmonella

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WHO World health day – 7 April 2015 #safefood

The World Health Organisation celebrated 7th April as World Health Day, and in 2015 is highlighting the challenges surrounding food safety, with the slogan “From farm to plate, make food safe”. FHN’s Food Safety Centre at the Institute of Food Research produced this special news brief (see link below) to raise awareness of the significance of safe […]

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False coloured scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of Campylobacter cells attached to chicken juice on a glass slide. Image: Louise Salt, IFR with colouring by Kathryn Cross, IFR

FSA releases new Campylobacter data

Feb 26 – FSA has released the latest data from their Campylobacter retail survey. This 12-month survey, running from February 2014 to February 2015, is looking at the prevalence and levels of Campylobacter contamination on fresh whole chilled chickens and their packaging. The survey is testing 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from UK retail […]

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Clostridium difficile viewed by transmission electron microscopy – image by Dr Emma Meader and Kathryn Cross, IFR

Is food a possible route of Clostridium difficile infection?

A recent article published by IFR’s Emeritus Fellow Dr Barbara Lund and Professor Mike Peck in the journal “Foodborne Pathogens and Disease” reviews the question whether food may be a route of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI). C. difficile is a major cause of illness in patients in hospitals and healthcare settings and also occurs in […]

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False coloured scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of Campylobacter cells attached to chicken

The trouble with Campylobacter

The Food Safety Centre at IFR is helping battle the Campylobacter problem affecting poultry. The anticipated publication by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of specific retailer’s levels of Campylobacter bacteria on chicken meat tomorrow has brought the issue back to the forefront of consumers’ minds.   Listen to Dr Arnoud van Vliet explain the problems […]

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