The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has announced a new UK Food Safety Network to combat foodborne illness. FSA and the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC) have invested £1.6 million toward creating the new network, which will be hosted by the Quadram Institute, a center for food health and research. The capital invested into the creation of the UK Food Safety Network is a small fraction of what foodborne illness costs the UK—£9 billion yearly, according to FSA.
FSA asserts that foodborne illness is a major health challenge in the UK, reporting an estimated 2.4 million cases each year. The majority of foodborne illness in the UK is caused by microbial pathogens, of which Salmonella and Campylobacter have the greatest economic impact. FSA adds that, while foodborne illness caused by Listeria monocytogenes is rare in the UK, it has a mortality rate of nearly 13 percent. Microbes also contribute to food waste, with Pseudomonas accounting for 25 percent of food spoilage in the UK.
The UK Food Safety Network is intended to connect food industry, policymakers, and academics to collaborate and pursue shared research priorities related to foodborne hazards. The network will address current and emerging challenges by coordinating and funding cross-sectoral research and training initiatives. Aside from assembling a community of food safety stakeholders and experts, the network’s objectives are to:
- Identify areas of research that will impact UK food safety
- Coordinate research activities that will promote science-based solutions to food safety challenges
- Host training for the food system community that fosters skills development, interoperability, and relationship-building
- Translate the network’s findings to food safety stakeholders
- Upcycle existing information and technologies that have the potential to benefit food safety but have not yet been widely utilized.
Scientists at the Quadram Institute are already familiar with whole genome sequencing and genomic epidemiology, which are technologies that have greatly benefitted the UK’s ability to monitor and respond to foodborne illness outbreaks. The Quadram Institute expresses the importance of the new UK Food Safety Network for inspiring an integrated and unified approach to microbiological threats to food safety, through cross-sector collaboration, innovation, information-sharing, and training. The Quadram Institute also promotes a “One Health” approach to addressing food safety, which involves the simultaneous consideration of the environment, agriculture, animal health, and human health.
FSA shared its excitement over its partnership with BBSRC and the Quadram Institute to create the UK Food Safety Network. FSA notes that the network aligns with the core objectives of the FSA Strategy 2022–2027 to “ensure food is safe and food is what it says it is.”