Food safety venture began at the zoo - Danish Food Cluster

Food safety venture began at the zoo

Danish collaboration takes new food safety knowledge out of the lab and into fresh food production.

Ever wondered about the bacteria that live in the ponds at Copenhagen Zoo? Scientists from the University of Copenhagen have – and it’s one of the reasons why Danish food manufacturers can look forward to producing even safer fresh foods in the very near future.

The university scientists found something in the water that became the foundation for TOP SAFE, a cross-collaborative project involving several major food producers.

Now, four years on, the outcome is a series of natural tools for protecting fresh vegetables, poultry and red meat from common pathogens – Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter and Listeria. The first ever industrial trials in Denmark have proven their efficacy on a meat production line.

A shared goal
It all started when Anne Elsser-Gravesen, owner of ISI Food Protection, and Lone Brøndsted, professor at University of Copenhagen, got together around a shared goal. Before long, SEGES, Arla, Danish Crown, Flensted and Danpo were onboard. Financing came from the Green Development and Demonstration Programme (GUDP).

The Danish food industry already has leading standards of food safety. We wanted to work on a project to make food even safer for consumers and help reduce food waste. That way food manufacturers can strengthen their exports and Denmark’s reputation,” says Anne Elsser-Gravesen, who leads the TOP SAFE project.

Salmonella can be found in a variety of foods, such as poultry, pork, beef, seafood and raw vegetables.

Enemies of bacteria
Their focus is biopreservation using bacteriophages – phages for short – the natural enemies of bacteria. Phages exist in our surroundings and are often water-borne, which explains why pond water from Copenhagen Zoo, for example, is a good place to find them. What makes them of particular interest is their ability to attack and eradicate specific types of bacteria.

Wherever you find many bacteria, you find many phages. We isolate them, characterise them and find out which specific bacteria they infect, their efficacy and how safe they are to use in food,” Lone Brøndsted says.

Right now, we have 50 phages that target Campylobacter, 50 for Salmonella and 100 for E. coli. Each strain of a bacteria may react very differently due to genetic variations. Our work has built a very detailed picture of which strain each phage will target.

Bridging science and industry
ISI Food Protection has built the bridge between the science and its application in food production.

Anne Elsser-Gravesen explains: “There was a lack of understanding about how to put phages to work in food companies. This project has given us a lot of knowledge about how to secure food safety standards. Now the EU approval process is the next step before industry can put the phages to use.

Lone Brøndsted looks forward to conducting similar collaborative studies in the future – and says that a funding application for the next project has already been submitted.

This is the first time we’ve worked on a project like TOP SAFE. In the companies, we have met very positive, interested and competent people.  It’s inspiring to work with people who have knowledge and the courage to use phages in a way that brings so many benefits.

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