New project to assess COVID-caused hygiene practices for safer food production

Campden BRI is looking for partners to help with new research that aims to assess the impact of COVID-19 on factory hygiene to help businesses develop more efficient procedures. It could save participating manufacturers significant cost and time as the research reveals which cleaning interventions have been the most successful.

The research looks to compare factory swab results from hundreds of different businesses to identify patterns in microbiological data to improve hygiene practices to produce safer products.

Dr Greg Jones, senior microbiologist at Campden BRI who is leading the project, said:

“When the pandemic hit the food industry hard last year, manufacturers found little to no guidance available on how to handle such an unexpected scenario. As a result, feedback from industry groups suggested that food businesses implemented different hygiene strategies to continue to produce safe products while maintaining staff safety.

“This inadvertently set the scene for the single greatest industry-wide experiment into factory hygiene ever conducted. For the first time, we can use the factory swab data generated from hundreds of different food factories to compare the impact of different hygiene approaches on factory microflora. We could draw countless conclusions from this data, but what we’re most excited about identifying is the effectiveness of specific approaches on specific food pathogens.”

The researchers will analyse the microbiological data – submitted confidentially by participating businesses – and compare it with survey responses to identify any patterns or correlations that could help build more efficient and targeted hygiene procedures.

Specifically, the research will look at two sets of microbiological data – namely Listeria and total viable counts (TVCs) – and will draw conclusions from this data. For example, comparing data generated pre- and post-pandemic from a number of factories might reveal a particular cleaning method that is effective against a food pathogen such as Listeria monocytogenes.

Another example comes from the approaches adopted to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Many food businesses put in place barriers, yet it is to be determined whether this had an impact on a factory’s microflora by, for example, making it more difficult to clean certain areas.

The research will also examine how different hygiene approaches compare. Jones continued, “Unlike COVID-19, Brexit was an anticipated event yet still caused havoc in the industry with shortages in some supplies, including cleaning agents. This leads us to hypothesise whether other methods, such as barriers, could act as an alternative, temporary intervention if such a shortage occurs again.”

This opens the door for the research to steer guidance with the shared best practices to provide advice to manufacturers in a future emergency situation, such as another pandemic.

Dr Roy Betts, a fellow at Campden BRI, said:

“Every challenge has a silver lining, and interventions put in place due to the pandemic provides a golden opportunity to collate data that will allow participants to benchmark themselves against other anonymous participants to get an understanding of whether their factory hygiene is inline with others. Subsequently, this will help them identify areas where their cleaning practices may need evaluating.”

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