A processing plant designed to purposely produce food contaminated with potentially deadly pathogens is under construction in Norway.
The Ås-based facility, which is the only one of its kind in Europe, will offers researchers the opportunity to studying the survival and growth of pathogens such as E.coli and Listeria monocytogenes during production, packing and storage.
The project, which was funded by the Research Council of Norway, was the brainchild of food research institute Nofima and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
At the facility, researchers will be able to explore how raw materials and products become contaminated by equipment and conveyor belts, the most effective measures to destroy pathogens and the optimal way of disinfecting equipment.
The plant is scheduled for completion in mid-2013.
Helga Næs, research director of food safety and quality at Nofima, told FoodProductionDaily.com that researchers will learn more about what happens to microbes during the production process through access to the facility.
“We could see that there was demand amongst researchers to experiment with contaminated foodstuffs under controlled conditions. They were looking to add pathogenic bacteria such as E.coli and Listeria to certain foodstuffs, then study how they survive and grow in a production environment,” she said.
Nofima hopes the development will attract researchers from Norway and further afield.
“We hope that this facility can attract researchers from across Norway and Europe and encourage collaboration,” said Næs.
“The main goal is to reduce outbreaks and reduce the number of incidents of food contamination.”
As well as appealing to researchers, Næs revealed that Nofima had been in talks with a number of food manufactures concerning use of the facility.
“We’ve had a lot of meetings recently with those people. They have told us what their needs are,” she added.
The facility will have a ‘Biosafety level 3’ grade – the second highest safety level. At this level, the microbes being used could lead to serious or lethal consequences.
Researchers will be required to wear protective gear and follow strict safety regulation inside the sealed facility, which will only be accessible through air locked doors.
External air flow will be microfiltered and low air pressure inside the room will ensure that microbes do not escape.
“It is a very complicated build because we basically have to build a room within a room. It has to be sealed from the outside world, so that no contaminants can escape,” Næs added.