Twelve institutions have formed a center of excellence to focus on food safety risk assessment and authenticity.

The consortium is led by the University of Donja Gorica in Montenegro and includes the University of Padova, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

The Centre of Excellence for digitalization of microbial food safety risk assessment and quality parameters for accurate food authenticity certification (FoodHub) will be funded by the Ministry of Science in Montenegro until the end of 2022.

Its goal is to offer help with food safety risk elimination and hazard identification, digitalized risk assessment tools, reliable certification and tracing of food authenticity and ready to use applications for the food production industry.

Develop sector in the country
FoodHub will develop software with integrated data management, data linkage and interactive food chain analyses to support analysis of cross-contamination, geographical relations, clustering and tracing.

Partners will try to improve quality and safety of food production by defining standards, ranging from protection of place of origin to quality parameters and protocols. Modern technologies will be applied to adjust traditional processes to new trends while keeping product authenticity and traditional features. The hope is to stimulate development of the food sector in Montenegro.

The consortium will address the lack of expertise and training in areas such as bioinformatics, molecular biology and genomics in Montenegro and strengthen the food science sector. Training programs focusing on young researchers to bring missing expertise to Montenegro are also planned. FoodHub has the mission to enhance existing strengths of Montenegrin production and help develop sustainable food production to be in line with EU policy developments.

Other partners are the University of Novi Sad and Biosense, both in Serbia, the Institute for Public Health in Montenegro; the Administration for Food Safety, Veterinary and Phytosanitary Affairs; the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro; Fleka, a design agency in Montenegro; Jul Plantaze, a grape, wine and brandy producer and Seljak LLC.

Meanwhile, researchers at the BfR in Germany have developed a new open data format that can help risks of disease from microbial pathogens in food be predicted quicker.

The Food Safety Knowledge Markup Language (FSK-ML) format allows uniform documentation of mathematical models and model-based simulation results. Mathematical models can play a role in the health risk assessment of pathogens in food.

The FSK-ML information exchange format was extended and tested by the BfR in the AGINFRA+ project from 2017 to 2019. With FSK-ML, models developed in different programming languages can be exchanged in a harmonized format. They can be made available to other researchers for computer-based forecasts or further optimization of models. Previously developed predictive models can be calculated with different simulation scenarios and adapted to fit the issue.

Using wastewater to irrigate fruits and vegetables 
Earlier this year, the BfR, the Julius Kühn Institute and the Max Rubner Institute looked at the occurrence of certain bacterial pathogens in treated wastewater and on fruit and vegetables. An increase is expected in plants for raw consumption being irrigated with treated wastewater.

The risk of the general population being infected by Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) or Listeria monocytogenes after eating fresh fruits or vegetables is low but could increase if plants for production of fruit or vegetables are irrigated with treated wastewater and later consumed raw, according to scientists.

The three institutes analyzed previous publications and their own research results to conclude the presence of the three pathogens is possible in treated wastewater and the higher the level of fecal indicator bacteria the greater the probability.

Probability of transfer of pathogenic bacteria directly from treated wastewater, or indirectly via the irrigated soil to fruits and vegetables intended for raw consumption, depends on factors such as environmental conditions, the properties and amounts of bacteria in the irrigation water and soil, nature of the soil, type of plant, and competing microorganisms in the soil and on plants. Irrigation methods on how the treated wastewater is distributed during plant cultivation also have an impact.

The institutes recommended only using irrigation water of drinking quality for hydroponic crops of plants for raw consumption and limits on the use of treated wastewater judged as quality categories B or C. They also advised consumers to wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly with drinking water before consumption. Vegetables that grow close to the ground could be peeled or blanched.

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