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Forecast model can predict bacterial progeny, claim researchers

By Jane Byrne , 20-Jun-2008

A mathematical forecast model will enable all parties throughout the supply chain to estimate the numerical level of microbial contamination of poultry, according to the developers.

The Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) model has been developed by researchers in the Wessex Institute of Technology (WIT), as part of an EU funded project partnership.

Developing and integrating novel technologies to improve safety, transparency and quality assurances in the chilled and frozen food supply chain is the key aim of the project, which runs under the name Chill-On. The project is partly financed by the European Commission through its Sixth Framework Programme.

QMRA and HACCP
"The new 'management strategy' is a combination of QMRA and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). Several research papers suggested this approach, but no solution how to implement this new system had been found so far," claims Christian Colmer from German research agency, ttz Bremerhaven, which is adapting the QMRA for the poultry industry.

"Chill-On has defined for the first time how the two technologies of QMRA and HACCP can support each other and provide companies throughout the supply chain with useful information," said Colmer.

"On the basis of this information, the supply chain actors can decide how best to proceed either by further heat processing to reduce microbiological load or changing the 'best before date' for example," added Colmer.

Characteristics key
The Chill-On partnership claims that the mathematical forecast model takes into consideration the characteristics of a product in order to predict the progeny of bacteria. The result then makes it possible to estimate whether the product will be contaminated to an unacceptable degree at the next steps of the poultry supply chain, the group added.

Supply chain experts for fresh and frozen food gathered in Bonn earlier this month to look at the outcomes to date for the Chill-On project, as rising consumption and poultry consumers' increasing awareness of microorganisms are demanding assurance of zero level microbial risk in production.

"A significant step was made during the Bonn meeting of project partners to define the characteristics of this novel management strategy," said Colmer.

"It is known that assurance of zero-level microbial risk is unattainable; however, Chill-On aims to develop a management strategy that will come very close to that level," said the German agency.

Colmer claims that pending patent applications prevented him from providing any further details on the forecast model.

Smart Labels
The focal point of the Chill-On project's research is the development of eChillOn Smart Labels, a combination of Time-Temperature Indicator (TTI) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag.

Colmer claims that all research and development tasks, including field trials of the products, will be finalised in July 2010, the scheduled end date of the project .

Fish focus
The project participants said that as fish is the third most-consumed food product in Europe, and because it is highly sensitive to food poising, the chilled and frozen fish supply chain has been selected as the test case for this project.

To ensure transferability to all sectors, poultry meat has been selected as the second high-risk product group to be studied, according to the researchers.

The Chill-On project participants' goal is to provide stakeholders along the supply chain with a system that ensures fulfilment of EU legislation and applies current standards.