Interdisciplinary research, focussing on microbiology and surfaces, has led to impacts on food quality, waste reduction and consumer health across the international food industry.
Surface properties affect the retention of microbial cells and the hygienic status of the surface. Microbiology Professor Joanna Verran recognised that it was important to characterise properties so that factors affecting hygiene could be identified.
She developed a niche research area looking at the physical and chemical properties of surfaces and how they interact with microorganisms, particularly where this affects food-borne illness (Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli).
In 2001 Professor Verran was the academic lead on a large-scale industrial research project that focused on the cleanability of hygienic food contact surfaces. Subsequent research within a large EU project: PathogenCombat (2005 - 2010), looked at the different ways that microorganisms and food soil behaved on surfaces and how this would affect cleanability and hygiene. She did this by developing novel staining techniques and modifying surfaces, for example by using coatings.
What she found out was used by International small businesses and other food processing industries including meat processing and brewing.
Significant industrial funding has demonstrated the impact of our findings and expertise to a wide international community.
The EU PathogenCombat project aimed ‘to make food safer and strengthen consumer trust by monitoring and preventing future pathogens throughout the food chain’.
It provided new methods to the food industry and public authorities to reduce the prevalence of emerging food borne pathogens.
PathogenCombat created significant resources for engagement amongst an international audience of Food-related SME’s. The website received 120,000 hits per month and a university authored brochure on the ‘cleanability of open food contact surfaces’ was sent to 6000 European food SMEs. This led to considerable uptake (150 SMEs) of a PathogenCombat web support system, that enabled SMEs to self-assess food hygiene and safety procedures.
Further impact includes a partnership with the University of Copenhagen, funded by the Danish Research for Food and Council for Technology and Production Science. This is a project transforming the use of antimicrobial metal-coated surfaces in the meat production industry. Subsequently a TSB funded project, conducted in partnership with the Finnish brewing industry and research centre VTT, is looking at developing novel surfaces for the food and beverage industry .
Our expertise is valued in the development of British and international testing standards and guidelines. Verran is the author of “Testing surface cleanability in food processing” which appears in the “Handbook Of Hygiene Control In The Food Industry.”
Originally published in 2005, this practical handbook is still considered as the standard reference on high hygiene standards within the food industry and according to the Society for General Microbiology is “an invaluable tool for any microbiologist working in the food industry”. A second edition is due for publication in 2015 and Verran has updated her contribution to the publication.
Verran (MMU) is a partner of the International Biodeterioration Research Group, which comprises microbiologists from key producers of antimicrobial materials and surfaces, who work to develop methods for testing their surfaces at intended point of use.