About the Project

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Framework 7

KBBE.2011.2.4-01 Collaborative Project – Safety and quality of ready-to-eat foods.

Project Title

STARTEC – Decision Support Tools to ensure safe, tasty and nutritious Advanced Ready-To-Eat foods for healthy and vulnerable Consumers

Work Programme Topics Addressed:

KBBE.2011.2.4-01: Safety and quality of ready-to eat foods.

Coordinator

Dr. Taran Skjerdal, Norwegian Veterinary Institute, Oslo, Norway

8 Participants in this project residing in Norway, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Ireland.

Project details:

  • Project Start: 1 February 2012
  • Project Finish: 31 January 2015
  • No of Partners: 8
  • Budget: €2,946,283

Project Overview

Food business operators must make daily decisions about food safety and quality, often based on limited scientific data, or full knowledge of the consequences of deviations for the consumer, due to the limited capacity to carry out analyses and risk assessments. This project will develop the necessary tools based on scientific evidence and predictive and probabilistic models to enable food operators estimate the quality and safety level in their products (ready-to-eat foods) if alternative ingredients, process and storage conditions are applied. Pathogens to be studied include:Listeria. monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enterica, Bacillus cereus, Verotoxinproducing E.coli (VTEC) and Clostridium spp, as well as Staphylococcus toxins. High pressure treatment, dielectric heating, biopreservation and packing technologies will be investigated. Food quality factors will also be assessed. The project focuses in particular on vulnerable consumers where increased quality and safety levels are needed, e.g. patients at nursing homes, hospitals, old and sick people living at home. The project will run for three years and involves eight participants, of which five are SMEs. Producers of convenience and RTE products will be actively involved in the project as well as experts in food microbiology, food chemistry, food process technology, information technology and modelling, laboratory analytical methods, cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment. The decision making tool to be developed will enable the SME operator to quantify and manage spoilage and pathogen risks in a way which is not currently possible. A cost-benefit module will be included in the tool, allowing the food providers to compare quality, safety and costs of their actions, or any abuse conditions along the food supply chain. A prototype of the tool will be tested and validated during the project.

Project Objectives

1. To assess the supply chains, food production processes, and food safety and quality management systems in target food companies, who currently manufacture raw and heat treated ready-to-eat and convenience products prepared from meat, seafood, dairy and vegetables.

 

2. To evaluate and model the growth and survival of pathogens, toxin production and degradation, and quality changes including organoleptical and nutrition loss in food model systems where different ingredients are combined. The evaluation will be based on current scientific data and new experiments.

 

3. To assess the effectiveness of conventional and new preservation techniques as well as intelligent packing and time-temperature monitoring technologies on food quality and safety, and investigate whether any of these approaches can be used as an extra “safety switch”, “quality switch” or “nutrition switch” when enhanced products are needed.

 

4. To carry out cost-benefit analyses related to the production of standard and enhanced ready-to-eat and convenience foods.

 

5. To develop a user friendly IT tool (to prototype level) and guidelines for rapid food safety risk assessment and decision support in a cost/benefit perspective.

 

6. To validate tools and strategies for improvement of the quality and safety of standard and enhanced ready-to-eat and convenient foods.

 

7. To disseminate the results to key stakeholders, including food business operators, food authorities and food policy makers.

Project Work Plan

The main objective of STARTEC is to develop tools and strategies to enable rapid decision support and risk assessment by SME food business operators. The project is organised into 8 integrated workpackages.

 

Two approaches will be used to identify the basis for these tools and strategies:

 

The first is to map the conditions in industry, in terms of variation in raw materials, typical deviations in supply chains, in-house processing and distribution chains, and corrective actions. The participating food producing SMEs will be model companies for the mapping, but interviews with customers, suppliers and food authorities will be also be included in order to get in a broader picture of the daily challenges in production of RTE products. All beneficiaries will take part in WP1, as this research will inform choices and steps in subsequent WPs. The participating food companies are located close to a research beneficiary, and will form “3 geographical teams”. They will focus on special challenges for their own area, as well as challenges expected to be common for others. Exchange of people between beneficiaries and geographic areas will be used where relevant.

 

The other approach is to critically review and collect literature data. The reviews will be carried out by researchers in the areas food microbiology, food quality, processing and preservation methods and cost/benefit analyses in WP2, 3 and 4. In addition, new studies will be carried out in these WPs in order to fill the gaps in the literature. It is likely that sufficient information about single ingredients can be found in the literature, while new studies will be needed on effects of mixing of ingredients, processing of mixed ingredients and storage.

 

The approach in WP2, 3 and 4 is to investigate the effects of different treatments on food safety, quality and costs, not to optimise each of the technologies if initial experiments show only marginal effects. Existing and new ingredient combinations, process and preservation technologies will be tested for their relevance in order to ensure food quality and safety for ordinary ready-to-eat and convenience products, as well as for their usefulness as “safety switches” and “nutrition switches”.

 

An IT tool will be developed based on the data produced in WP 1, 2, 3 and 4. The idea is to make a tool with interface similar to an iphone or ipad, where quality managers, process and product developers,

managers, sales people, as well as other stakeholders along the supplier-to-fork chain easy can get decision support. The development of the tool will start at the beginning of the project, and take in new elements from WP2, 3 and 4 when they are available. The interface and database of the tool will generally be designed based on the results of WP1, while the algorithms within the tool will be based on the reviews of literature data and new information obtained in the project. In order to “translate” the research data into a “mathematical language” so it can be implemented in the IT tool, modelling of the data will be needed. The IT tool and the strategies for improved quality and safety of ready-to-eat and convenient products, being adapted ingredient combinations, adapted conventional procedures, new preservation and packing technologies, will be checked for their practical relevance by the food industry beneficiaries in the project. This will be done in WP1 and WP6. There will not be a full scale validation of the IT tool, as this is not realistic within the time span of the project, but a technical assessment of the prototype will be conducted by IT specialists within the participating organisations.

 

Dissemination and training is organised in a separate work package, reflecting the importance of this activity to obtain transfer of knowledge, tools and strategies from the project to stakeholders. The project beneficiaries have been selected because they have specific and multidisciplinary competence for the topic, and because they have experience in both academic and practically oriented research. Most beneficiaries will therefore be participating in several WPs.

 

Coordination and management activities will run in parallel to all other project activities.