A food safety network has been created in the United Kingdom to try and reduce the burden of food poisoning.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have invested £1.6 million ($2 million) in the platform, which will be hosted by the Quadram Institute.

UK estimates show there are 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness a year with an annual cost of £9 billion ($11.1 billion), including £6 billion ($7.4 billion) from unknown causes.

Norovirus imposes the most economic and societal burden at an estimated annual cost of £1.7 billion ($2.1 billion) but Listeria has the highest mortality rate.

The UK Food Safety Research Network will connect industry, food and health policymakers and academia on shared research priorities to protect the UK from foodborne hazards. It will coordinate and fund cross-sectoral work and training that address current and emerging challenges.

Matt Gilmour, Quadram Institute group leader and network lead, said the safety of food is threatened by both enduring and emerging threats.

“This threat is exemplified by microbes that spread between the environment, animals and humans with foodborne exposures being a means for the transmission of pathogens and novel antimicrobial resistance genes from agriculture,” he said.

“The challenge is to take an integrated and unified approach to these problems right through from agriculture and the environment to food production and human health, in what’s termed a One Health approach. To do that we need to collaborate with food and other associated industries to share research and innovation and deliver training activities.”

Help tackle foodborne disease
Network members will identify areas of research that will have meaningful impacts on UK food safety and share knowledge generated within the network to food safety stakeholders

“Foodborne disease is a major cause of illness in the UK population and imposes a significant burden on both infected individuals and the economy,” said Robin May, FSA’s chief scientific adviser.

“The network will ensure that the FSA is well-placed to tackle the challenges of foodborne illnesses by bringing together experts from government, industry and academia to address current and emerging issues of food safety in the UK.”

Melanie Welham, BBSRC executive chair, said food poisoning has a major impact on the health of people and the economy.

“The new UK Food Safety Research Network presents a tangible and exciting opportunity for collaborations to form between a range of experts to improve our understanding of foodborne disease and identify new ways in which to effectively predict, prevent, respond and recover from such illnesses in the future.”

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