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Scientists combat food poisoning

Published: 9th September 2005

SCIENTISTS at MMU are putting food hygiene under the microscope in a bid to combat the rising health hazard from processed and fast food.

In 2004, there were 79,000 notified cases of food poisoning in the UK compared to 20,000 in 1984 – almost a four-fold rise in 20 years. Much of this is attributed to the growth of processed and fast food.

The University, which has an international reputation in detecting micro-organisms and modelling their behaviour, has been invited to contribute to the largest ever study of its kind into the spread of pathogens in the food chain.

Around 40 research centres across Europe and Australia have launched Pathogen Combat – a £4 million EU study to find how Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and new emerging pathogens can be controlled. And MMU is flying the flag as the only UK university involved.


Microbiologists from the Dalton Research Institute at MMU are focusing on hygiene standards in factories and in kitchens where food is prepared.

Using atomic force microscope technology and other analytical methods, the team will look at how micro-organisms cling to surfaces, how they spread and how they can be cleaned off.

Professor Joanna Verran, an expert in surface contamination and team leader at MMU, said: “There are lots of variables which determine what is on a surface and how to remove it – the material itself, its texture, its design, its temperature etc. There is also the question of accessibility, as many surfaces in factories are closed, such as the inside of pipes.

“We want to develop the best method for minimising contamination and will be recommending the most hygienic designs for specific circumstances. Our report will present the latest science in a way which is of great practical use for industry.”


But she points out that hygiene is not the issue per se: “We are not looking to eradicate micro-organisms. Chickens will always have microbes in them. The key is knowing how to treat food in the safest way and avoid cross-contamination.”

Professor Verran’s material will include samples taken by France’s leading cheese manufacture centre (Institut Technique Français des Fromages) and comparing them to test models developed in the microbiology laboratories at MMU.

For more information about the project, go to the PathogenCombat webpage at or contact Mogens Jokobsen at The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark …

Or contact Professor Joanna Verran, The Dalton Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University 0161 247 1206.

For more information on the Dalton Research Institute go to