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

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 food and highlight some of the research being undertaken at IFR across the food chain to help maintain a safe supply of food to consumers.

View FHN’s Food Safety Centre special news brief: http://eepurl.com/bi_Qk5

In a recent article to highlight Food Safety Day, Dr Arnoud Van Vliet, Research Leader at IFR’s Food Safety Centre talks about the significance of Food Safety in a global context and how research at IFR is helping tackle this major health issue :http://blogs.ifr.ac.uk/ghfs/2015/03/who-worldhealthday2015/

More information on WHO – World Health Day 2015: http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2015/en/

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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 outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers.

Data from the first two quarters of the survey, which included the testing of 1,995 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens, was published last November. This report gave details of contamination levels in the main supermarkets: while Asda topped the list with 78% of chicken samples being positive for Campylobacter, the lowest on the list (Tesco) did not fare much better with 64% positive.

The cumulative results published by the FSA combine the first three quarters, and confirms the previous report, with >70% of chicken samples positive for Campylobacter. With 68% samples positive, Tesco scores again best, and Asda with 79% comes out worst. More importantly is that 12-31% of samples has the highest level of Campylobacter contamination, as these are the ones more likely to cause food poisoning. Also, almost 7% of packaging samples were positive for Campylobacter,  which is a concern as may expose consumers to infection, although most positive samples had a very low level of contamination. Finally, as these data show the average of the whole 9 month period of testing, it is too early to draw conclusions with regard to the different retailers though, and cannot show whether new intervention and prevention methods under investigation are effective.

With the annual incidence of Campylobacter up to half a million cases per year in the UK, and between 2 and 20 million in the EU, it represents an important public health and economic problem. Funders, regulators, industry, retailers and scientists continue to work together to address this problem. However, this is a problem without quick fixes or easy solutions, and all partners involved want to solve it. Solutions need to be long-term, economically viable and robust.

At the Institute of Food Research, we are doing scientific research on Campylobacter to support the food industry with preventing the introduction and spread of Campylobacter in the food chain, and to support the regulatory bodies by helping them to assess which sources of Campylobacter are giving problems, and whether we can predict future trends in Campylobacter -related food safety. This research is led by Dr Arnoud van Vliet.

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, IFROur work with industrial partners focuses on how Campylobacter can survive in the poultry processing environment. Once the bacterium leaves the gut of the poultry during processing, it needs to survive disinfection treatment, and the general stresses of the outside world. One of the unsolved puzzles about Campylobacter is that it is easy to kill in the laboratory, but surprisingly difficult to remove from the food chain. One of the goals of the Campylobacter research in the Gut Health and Food Safety programme is to gain a better understanding of how Campylobacter grows and survives outside of the chicken gut, and in order to do this this we have been looking at its ability to form biofilms on surfaces. We have shown that Campylobacter can use biofilms for survival, where the bacteria are encapsulated in a slime layer protecting them against cleaning regimens. The Campylobacters can use organic materials generated during slaughter of chickens to bind to surfaces. Our work on biofilms is now progressing to the stage where we are trying to prevent the bacteria forming the biofilm, and by providing advice on how cleaning regimens can be modified to target the already existing biofilms.

A second part of IFR Campylobacter science is aimed at tracing Campylobacter. We use DNA sequencing to get all the information from the Campylobacter chromosome, and use this to make a genetic “fingerprint” of the Campylobacters from different sources. This information can be very helpful to regulatory bodies, both in analysing where current infections come from, and hopefully to predict where future problems may occur. This will aid the resilience of the food chain, and assist regulators, industry and consumers in the ongoing fight for ensuring food safety.

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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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FHN at Food Matters Live 18-20 November 2014, Excel London

FHN exhibited in November 2014 at this new event and met new contacts and existing FHN Members at our Stand No: RP5 in the Research Pavillion. This new event combined an exhibition, with free-to-attend conferences, seminars and practical demonstrations.  Bringing together over 450 speakers, 200 exhibitors and thousands of visitors from across the food & health sectors.

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IFR - PhD Studentship Opportunities

IFR – PhD Studentship Opportunities

Applications now open for 4 year PhD studentships at the Institute of Food Research, to start in October 2015. These studentships, funded through the Norwich Research Park Doctoral Training Partnership, form an integral part of our research that addresses the fundamental relationships between food and health, food and the gut and the sustainability of the […]

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