UK project gets funding to monitor foodborne pathogens and AMR

UK project gets funding to monitor foodborne pathogens and AMR

by Sue Jones
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A project in the United Kingdom has received funding for the surveillance of foodborne pathogens and antimicrobial resistance.

Pathogen Surveillance in Agriculture, Food and the Environment (PATH-SAFE) involves the Food Standards Agency (FSA); Food Standards Scotland (FSS); Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra); Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC); Public Health England (PHE); and the Environment Agency.

The aim is to establish the infrastructure and sampling frameworks needed to monitor the source and spread of foodborne pathogens and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes between the environment, animals, food and people.

Three-year project
Professor Robin May, chief scientific adviser for the FSA, said: “This project is designed to help safeguard UK food, agriculture and consumers by using cutting edge technology to understand how pathogens and AMR spread. Tracking the source of these issues will ultimately help us to develop better control strategies to reduce illness and deaths.”

May mentioned the project while presenting an annual update to the FSA Board earlier this year.

Professor Gideon Henderson, chief scientific adviser for Defra, said: “UK sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals have halved in the last six years. This vital new project will build on that progress, and ensure antibiotics continue to remain effective for both people and animals.”

Professor David Gally, FSS chief scientific adviser, said: “The funding will allow the UK to build on its expertise in whole genome sequencing of infectious diseases to improve our knowledge of the origins and threats posed by pathogens and AMR in our environments and the food chain, and help us to target control strategies for protecting public health.”

Government funding of almost £20 million ($26.7 million) will support the three-year project to develop a pilot national surveillance network, using DNA-sequencing technology and environmental sampling to improve the detection and tracking of foodborne and antimicrobial resistant pathogens through the agricultural food system from farm to fork.

It will include a new database to allow the analysis, storage and sharing of pathogen sequence and source data collected from locations across the UK by government and public organizations.

Neil Woodford, deputy director, National Infection Service, Public Health England, said: “Our ongoing and established surveillance work of antibiotic resistance in samples from patients with gastrointestinal infections will form an important part of this joint initiative and help ensure that information is shared across the system.”

Consumer survey results
Meanwhile, the FSA has published findings from a survey measuring self-reported knowledge, attitudes and behaviors on issues including food safety amongst adults in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It was conducted between November 2020 and January 2021 with 5,900 adults.

Most respondents had no concerns about the food they eat. Of those that had concerns, the most common concerns related to food production methods and food safety and hygiene.

From a list of 10 options, people were most concerned about the amount of sugar in food and food waste but food poisoning and food fraud or crime were also mentioned by about half of respondents.

People were more likely to report confidence in farmers, shops and supermarkets than in takeaways and food delivery services.

Of respondents who reported having a food allergy, 35 percent had an allergy to fruit.

When asked about changes in eating habits in the past 12 months, 16 percent had bought food close to its use-by date more, 9 percent kept leftovers for longer before eating and 8 percent had eaten food past its use-by date more. Of those who had changed eating habits for financial reasons, 21 percent had kept leftovers for longer before eating and 17 percent had eaten food past its use-by date more.

Almost half of respondents had eaten bagged salad or cheese past their use-by dates in the past four weeks. One quarter of people reported they had eaten eggs past the best before date in the past month. A third of respondents wash raw chicken at least occasionally, which goes against the advice of food safety experts.

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