The Food Chain's Posts (26)

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NEWS: Food Safety Skills Fund & Student Award

Bursaries to enhance food safety skills and experience 
Did you know that if you’re a member of safefood’s Knowledge Network that you can apply for our Food Safety Skills Fund Programme? The programme aims to enhance members’ skills, broaden their experience and create linkages between those involved in food safety on the island of Ireland. The programme funds visits to other laboratories, and attendance at conferences, centres of excellence and other food safety training events. For more information or to apply please see

Queen’s University Belfast: Best Food Safety Essay Winner12224550858?profile=RESIZE_584x
Pictured: Robyn Moore (Best Food Safety Essay, BSc in Food Quality, Safety and Nutrition at QUB) alongside Michaela Fox (safefood) and Prof. Geoff McMullan Head of School for Biological Sciences. Robyn’s essay was entitled: Food, is it safe to eat? The microbiological safety of vegetables

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safefood Public Analyst’s Laboratory Forum



safefood organised a forum for Public Analyst’s Laboratory staff recently in Limerick. The event was the first of its kind to be held and was attended by Executive Analytical Chemists from the three Public Analyst’s laboratories in Ireland, as well as the Public Analysts themselves. Dr James McIntosh from safefood chaired the meeting at which issues of mutual concern and interest to the laboratories were discussed. The event was a great opportunity for staff networking and cooperative development.

Pictured: Public Analyst laboratory staff from Cork, Dublin and Galway joined by Dr Gary Kearney and Dr James McIntosh (safefood).

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Free workshops for small food businesses




Events: Free workshops for small food businesses on Effective Food Safety and HACCP & Record Keeping

• 16th October (in association with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council) Canal Court Hotel, Newry, Co. Down.
• 17th October (in association with Bia Innovator Centre) Bia Innovator Centre, Athenry, Co. Galway.

The workshops will cover Effective Food Safety training, Practical HACCP and Record Keeping, and participants can avail of a 15-minute 1-to-1 consultation with the workshop
facilitators. To register or for more information please visit

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Quiz Time!


Try your hand at this issue’s quiz and you could be in with a chance to win a fantastic prize!

Question 1: What is the primary ingredient in Gochujang?

Question 2: Orecchiette takes its name from which body part?

Question 3: What does the term carpaccio mean in cooking?

Question 4: What vegetable is also known lady’s fingers?

Question 5: When transporting food, where is the coolest part of the car?

Question 6: What country does the lúcuma fruit hail from?

Question 7: When barbecuing, what temperatures should meats like burgers and sausages be cooked to?

Question 8: Where is the Currywurst Museum?

Question 9: What C is a type of bread usually eaten on Jewish ceremonial occasions?

Question 10: What gives pesto its green colour?


safefood is delighted to offer one lucky quiz winner a fantastic food hamper (similar to pictured). 12224143254?profile=RESIZE_400x
To enter: Simply complete the quiz above and send your answers to knowledgenetwork@ before 27th October 2023. This competition is open to Knowledge Network members on the island of Ireland only.

Congratulations to Sharon Crowe, Executive Analytical Chemist, Public Analyst’s Laboratory, HSE, Community Healthcare West, Galway, who was the winner of issue 26’s quiz. 
Answers to the questions in Issue 26: 
1. Fear of cooking
2. The Carolina Reaper
3. An Italian cured meat product prepared from pork jowl
4. Mussel
5. Apple
6. Radish
7. Botswana
8. The can opener
9. True!
10. Coriander

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What does whole genome sequencing tell us

About Dr Daniel Hurley Dr Daniel Hurley is a Lecturer / Assistant Professor in Food Microbiology and Safety at the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science. Daniel is the Programme Director of the part-time, online MSc in Food Safety.
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Quiz Time!



Try your hand at this issue’s quiz and you could be in with a chance to win a fantastic prize!

Question 1: What is mageirocophobia?
Question 2: What variety of chili pepper is considered the hottest in the world?
Question 3: What is guanciale?
Question 4: What seafood has a ‘beard’?
Question 5: What popular fruit contains malic acid?
Question 6: French Breakfast, Cherry Belle and Easter Egg are all varieties of what vegetable?
Question 7: In what country would you find ‘seswaa’ on the menu?
Question 8: What helpful tool did Ezra Warner invent?
11036423094?profile=RESIZE_400xQuestion 9: 
True or false: milk can be made into plastic.
Question 10: What herb beginning with C is mentioned in the bible?

safefood is delighted to offer one lucky quiz winner a fantastic food hamper (similar to pictured). 
To enter: Simply complete the quiz above and  send your answers to before 21st July 2023. This competition is open to Knowledge Network members on the island of Ireland only.

Congratulations to Leona Hawkes, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) who was the winner of issue 25’s quiz. Answers: 1. Pomelo; 2. Rose; 3. Potato; 4. Fruit; 5. The sandwich
6. Green; 7. Scottish cheeses; 8. Argentina 9. 12; 10. Its strong and unpleasant smell

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11036422066?profile=RESIZE_710xIn March, safefood and Special Olympics Ireland (SOI) announced a new partnership called Health@Play that brings health education through sport to children with intellectual disabilities aged 4-15 years within their community clubs and schools. Hayley Kavanagh, Special Olympics Ireland, said: “By introducing children to healthy habits through a wide variety of play activities in a familiar, supportive and fun environment, everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”
Speaking about the partnership, Fiona Gilligan, Director of Communications at safefood said: “We are very proud of this new partnership between safefood and Special Olympics Ireland. The young athletes and their health coordinators have been wonderfully engaged in the development of the resource and we look forward to the roll out across the island of Ireland. We will continue to explore fun and engaging ways to educate children on the importance of eating healthily and how that connects with being active. Nurturing our children to develop these positive habits from an early age can give them the building blocks towards a healthy life.”

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Food Safety Skills Fund


Learn more about bursaries to enhance food safety skills and experience. Did you know that if you’re a member of safefood’s Knowledge Network that you can apply for our Food Safety Skills Fund Programme? The programme aims to enhance member’s skills, broaden their experience and create linkages between those involved in food safety on the island of Ireland. The programme funds visits to other laboratories, and attendance at conferences, centres of excellence and other food safety training events.

For more information or to apply please see

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Food Safety Training Workshops 2023


The safefood Knowledge Network will be hosting a number of free training workshops for small food businesses on ‘Essential Food Safety’ and ‘HACCP & Record Keeping,’ online and in various locations throughout the island of Ireland. The first in-person workshop on HACCP and record keeping will take place on Thursday, 11th of May in Athenry, in association with the BiaInnovator Campus. The second set of workshops will be held on the 25th and 26th of May in Belfast.

To register please visit For further information please email

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A Day in the Life

Meet Dr Lynsey Hollywood, Senior Lecturer and Manager of the Food and Drink Business Development Centre at Ulster University Business School 


Dr Lynsey Hollywood has had a keen interest in the food industry since taking Home Economics at school. She studied for a BSc in Consumer Studies and was awarded a NIFDA scholarship to study food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She was then offered a PhD scholarship in food marketing. “My PhD explored consumer behaviour in relation to the purchase of milk, to identify segments of consumers that could be targeted with added value milk products. After my studies, I worked as a Lecturer in Business Strategy at Ulster University, then took up a post at Queen’s University Belfast as a Research Fellow.” Lynsey’s next post was as lecturer on the BSc Consumer Management and Food Innovation degree at Ulster University. “I taught on this programme for five years and absolutely loved it.” In 2018, she became manager of the newly established Food and Drink Business Development Centre which was created to harness and promote all the food-related research activity undertaken across the Ulster University Business School (UUBS). “I am currently involved in a range of funded research projects, five of which are safefood funded.” 

11036418078?profile=RESIZE_400xThe aim of the UUBS Food and Drink Business Development Centre is to support local industry through academic and/or commercial research, and teaching. The Centre provides a range of facilities including the Consumer Insight Lab, which uses virtual reality technology to understand shopping behaviours; the award-winning Food and Consumer Sensory Testing suite for sensory evaluation and product development activity, and the Academy restaurant for testing menu concepts and upskilling. “We are in the process of launching our Market Intelligence lab which will house big data information, for example, shopper loyalty card data.”

Research to date within the Centre has focused on the themes of food innovation and product development, food safety, food retail and consumer behaviour. “We recently completed
two safefood studies addressing food safety. One study sought to understand consumers’ use of meat thermometers and the other addressed consumers’ use of smart devices while preparing food. Now, we have two safefood projects underway: one looks at how businesses are adopting to the new EU Legislation on food safety culture and the other is on foods that consumers bring to vulnerable patients in healthcare settings.” 

The safefood-funded project on Food Safety Culture (FSC) is a collaboration between the team at Ulster University, University College Cork, Queen’s University Belfast and Dundalk Institute of Technology. “The term FSC has recently been included in the Commission Regulation 2021/382 which stipulates that all food businesses must show evidence of its  implementation. Key attributes of a strong FSC include management systems, risk perceptions, leadership, communication, environment and commitment to ensure food safety. To date, there is limited academic research addressing FSC implementation therefore this study will explore whether a robust food safety culture exists among small food businesses on the island of Ireland and if not, why not?” Furthermore, she explains, the study will examine the attitudes and behaviours towards food safety culture amongst food business owners and staff and their commitment to prioritising it within their business. 11036417273?profile=RESIZE_710x

Within the food safety culture project, Lynsey and her team have found that the demands faced by small food businesses mean they find it difficult to keep abreast of new legislative changes or updates and how they can implement these requirements. Additionally, high staff turnover and reliance on migrant staff means it can be challenging to ensure that their staff are up to date with their knowledge and understanding of food safety. 

Lynsey believes the drive for sustainability across the industry can bring to light some key food safety issues. “While it is industry’s desire to reduce food packaging,  consumers increasing demand for recyclable and reusable packaging will continue to present a food safety challenge of ensuring products are still safe for human consumption if new types of packaging are introduced.” 

With the current ‘cost of food crisis’, the safety of food will become more important than ever as this, along with availability of ingredients, will affect supply chains, she adds. “Such demands may force businesses to identify new suppliers which may be further afield or based in other countries, meaning new standards and a clear understanding of their ingredient inputs and processing methods will need to be considered.”

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New legislation requires new technologies and Una McCormack, Technical Consultant with Mérieux NutriSciences, explains the implications of the new maximum levels of per-and polyfuoroalkyl substances



Una McCormack is a Technical Consultant with Mérieux NutriSciences, a Kildare-based company offering practical testing and consulting to food and beverage manufacturers, processors, caterers, and retailers.

A native of Ennistymon in county Clare, Una studied Applied Science Microbiology in GMIT. After graduation, she joined Dairygold CMP (Cork Milk Producers) Dairy Laboratory. “It was a liquid milk plant in Cork city which produced a range of dairy products, and my first role was a laboratory technician. Later in my career, I was promoted to laboratory manager.” Her daily duties included the routine testing of milk and dairy products, and as quality manager, maintaining the quality system and supervising laboratory staff. Una moved to Nutrition Supplies, then Enva, and subsequently Advanced Laboratory Testing (ALT) where she worked in consultancy and sales.

Mérieux NutriSciences acquired ALT in 2019. “I am a Technical Consultant based in the Cork office, and my role is advisory. If you are a food producer and you need to get a product tested, I can advise on the tests required to comply with legislation or other food safety criteria. Shelf-life testing is part of the work we do. Products placed on the marketplace with a ‘use by’ date or a ‘best before’ date have to be shelf life tested and that’s done through microbiological methods and laboratory testing.” Una’s client base is across the full spectrum, ranging from small through to large food producers, and planned sampling and sample collections form part of her daily routine. “The results generated from our testing may need to be reviewed and communicated to the client in easy to-understand terms.” Constant communication with clients on testing queries, liaising with head office for sample collection scheduling, informing clients about procedures for sample handling, environmental testing i.e. swabs, water sampling, and administrative duties are all part of her working day.

The ongoing introduction of new food products and ingredients means there is no room for complacency, she says. “The advent of novel foods such as plant-based products, fermented products, and meat alternatives coming onto the marketplace and gaining popularity brings a new aspect to the role, requiring learning about them and the standards surrounding the production of them.”

11036395062?profile=RESIZE_400xAnd Irish food operators are far from complacent, she believes. “The awareness of food safety is excellent in Ireland. The challenge for the food producer is learning how to meet the requirements. They know it has to be done, but we are often asked to help them go about it. If they have an inspection and they are advised to get sampling done to comply with legislation, a client may need assistance to proceed, and this is where I or safefood or the Food Safety Authority of Ireland can help them to move forward. We also work closely with independent food safety consultants who engage with clients directly in this regard.” Once testing is complete, understanding the results can present its own challenges. “Often what I hear is, ‘I have mycertificate of analysis, but I don’t know what the numbers mean.’” While the role of a laboratory is primarily to analyse and report results, she says, food businesses, particularly smaller producers, cannot be expected to be familiar with all the technical and scientific terms used on a test certificate. 

“In addition, the legislation and guidelines may be daunting to read or understand initially. Clients need to be made aware of resources available and published guidelines. Accessing information for the client so that they can be reassured and fully understand what is required of them to comply with legislation or other food safety criteria is of the utmost importance. It’s to help them understand their results so they can read them going forward.” She highlights the training and webinars provided by safefood as hugely important and an
easy-to-access resource. 

One of the latest challenges facing the industry is the regulation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a family of nearly 5,000 synthetic chemicals considered persistent contaminants. Used in the industry for their stability and oilrepellent properties, they are extremely difficult to degrade in humans and in the environment. New regulation has introduced maximum levels of PFAS on certain foodstuffs, specifically products of animal origin: egg, meat, fish and their derivatives, making their determination mandatory in the concerned food products. In addition, the Commission Recommendation (EU) 2020/1431 extends the monitoring to a list of 28 analytes, also in fruits and vegetables and food for infants and young children, with very low target limit of quantifications (LOQ). 

New legislation such as this requires new technologies and it’s vital to get the test accredited as quickly as possible, she says.11036397853?profile=RESIZE_710x
“Mérieux NutriSciences is proud to be the first laboratory in Europe accredited for PFAS testing with screening offered for the four main PFAS and offering the required limit of quantification of one part per trillion (1PPT) – extremely low levels in line with what is demanded by the legislation.” 

Allergen testing is another area that requires constant vigilance, she says, citing Natasha’s Law. “It’s critical to keep on top of that as more allergens come to the fore. Legislation is constantly changing, whether it’s new allergens or new contaminants, and you have to keep up with it – last year’s tests may not be sufficient for this year.” Food substitution is another area of concern. “Current circumstances, such as the war in Ukraine, mean that people are trying to source ingredients and materials from different and new suppliers. Food business operators might be used to a certain supplier with a specification, and moving to a new supplier means you may have to get packaging or ingredients tested before you use it.”

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Quiz Time!

Try your hand at this issue’s quiz and you could be in with a chance to win a fantastic prize!

Question 1: What ‘P’ is the largest fruit in the citrus family?
Question 2: What flower family does the raspberry belong to?10895668093?profile=RESIZE_400x
Question 3: What was the first tuber planted in space?
Question 4: Is a pistachio a fruit, nut, or seed?
Question 5:
What dish is John Montagu said to have invented?
Question 6: What colour is wasabi?
Question 7: What are Criffel, Anster and Grimbister?
Question 8: Tafelspitz is the national dish of what country?
Question 9: How many dishes are there in a traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner?
Question 10: What is notable about the noni, or cheese fruit?

safefood is delighted to offer one lucky quiz winner a fantastic food hamper (similar to pictured). To enter: Simply complete the quiz above and send your answers to before 27th January 2023. This competition is open to Knowledge Network members on the island of Ireland only.

Congratulations to Mary Hall, Public Health Microbiology Laboratory, University Hospital Galway who was the winner of issue 24’s quiz. Answers: 1. Wales 2. Sheep 3. Italian pastry 4. Merguez 5. Casaba 6. Red 7. The heart 8. Jowl or cheeks 9. Filo 10. A Japanese root vegetable

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A Day in the Life

We meet Dr Mary Lenahan, Acting Senior Technical Executive, Biological Safety, at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland


Dr Mary Lenahan has been in the role of Technical Executive with the Biological Safety team in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) for over seven years and was recently appointed to Acting Senior Technical Executive. Prior to joining the FSAI, she gained a BSc Hons in Nutritional Science from UCC and a PhD in microbiology (food safety) from UCD in conjunction with Teagasc Ashtown Food Research Centre. “I have worked in various positions across both the public and private sector including conducting laboratory-based food safety research on projects concerning Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) and Salmonella, working in food microbiology laboratories that carry out routine analysis of food samples, and working as a salesperson to microbiology laboratories in the food and veterinary industry located all over the island of Ireland.” 

The principal function of the FSAI, Mary says, is to protect consumers and raise compliance through partnership, science and food law enforcement. Her responsibilities include developing and undertaking projects in the area of the microbiological safety of food, and providing technical support and advice to food business operators, official agency staff and FSAI colleagues on compliance with food hygiene legislation, and to consumers via the FSAI advice line. “I support the work of the FSAI Chief Specialist for Biological Safety, the FSAI Scientific Committee, and its Biological Safety Sub-committee. I conduct microbiological risk assessments and provide both technical and on-the-ground support during food incidents, foodborne outbreaks and audits of the food industry.”

Mary represents Ireland at the European Commission by participating in working groups developing legislation and guidance related to microbiological food safety. Another aspect of her role is writing protocols and publishing survey reports for the annual national microbiological monitoring and surveillance programme and contributing to the publication of the national zoonoses report each year. Mary enjoys the variety in her role and says every day is different. It has exposed her to a variety of projects related to food safety, built her expertise, and allowed her to meet new people and expand her professional network.

Meeting challenges
10895651082?profile=RESIZE_400xMary’s work is divided between planned project work and urgent unplanned reactive work as the need arises, such as risk assessment of food incidents related to microbiological food safety, participation in the management of microbiological foodborne outbreaks, audits and investigation work. It can be difficult, she explains, to manage both areas effectively so that the planned work is delivered to the agreed timelines. Another challenge is trying to improve and bridge any gaps in microbiological food safety training, information, and guidance that Mary and her team identify during the course of their work. “We are striving to deliver guidance and information in new ways that are in accessible and user-friendly formats such as pre-recorded webinars and self-serve eLearning.”

Looking forward
The next couple of months can be a busy time for Mary and her team as the year end often marks the deadline to deliver planned projects. “In terms of advising people on issues specifically related to microbiological food safety, January can be busy because many people decide they will start a new food business as a New Year’s resolution. They require information and advice on how to ensure they are placing safe food on the market and that they are complying with all the applicable food safety legislation.”

Words of advice
For those considering starting a food business, it is important to be aware of the requirement to register a food business with a competent authority before it begins operating, even if it is operating from a home, she says. “All food businesses, big or small, must be aware of the legislation regarding food hygiene and food safety, and their responsibility for ensuring any food they place on the market is safe.” The FSAI also offers free online eLearning programmes that are designed to be completed at a food business’s own pace and at a time that is most convenient for them. The majority of eLearning materials are in bite-sized modules they can be viewed in short sessions.


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safefood research found that key ingredients and allergens information is missing from some preprepared convenience food products


10895617469?profile=RESIZE_400xIn December 2019, safefood commissioned research to understand the nature of preprepared ‘convenience foods’ and the associated food safety risks. The aims of the research were to collect data on the types of ready-made, prepacked ‘convenience foods’ available in retailers and businesses across the island, and to assess the behaviours and understanding of people who consume preprepared foods. Preprepared ‘convenience foods’ are ready-made, prepacked foods, such as chilled meals, that need little processing in the home. They can be sold uncooked, partially cooked or fully cooked. For the purposes of this research project, ‘preprepared convenience foods’ referred to a whole preprepared meal (not a single ingredient) that is purchased chilled (not frozen) and requires the consumer to carry out a treatment step at home before consumption (for example, heating the meal).

The objectives of the project were to examine the on-pack and manufacturer-provided instructions for handling, storing and preparing preprepared convenience meals from retail outlets and meal preparation businesses that sell direct to the consumer, such as cafés. It sought to determine how people actually handle, store and prepare ‘ready’ meals at home, and their compliance with on-pack and manufacturer-provided instructions. It set out to explore and investigate consumer purchasing, knowledge, attitudes and understanding of handling, storing and preparing preprepared convenience foods; and lastly, to form a set of recommendations for consumers and food manufacturers regarding the handling, storage and preparation of preprepared convenience foods in order to maximise food safety and quality, and provide sound scientific advice to inform practice, policy and future research.

Researchers used quantitative and qualitative study methods to collect data, including: a literature review of relevant articles; an audit of on-pack and manufacturer-provided instructions; in-home observations of consumers; and interviews and online surveys with consumers.

The literature review highlighted the limited research conducted into consumers’ behaviours relating to preprepared convenience foods. The available literature indicated that food safety knowledge varied among sociodemographic groups,and that people’s behaviours relating to storage and following use-by dates were not always in line with the guidance 
The audit survey indicated that some preprepared convenience meals did not comply with legislation around ingredient and allergen lists, and that the details provided for reheating and freezing were insufficient. The in-home observations showed that participants in the study did not always check the use-by instructions and were extremely unlikely to identify food safety hazards, such as damaged packaging. Also, some participants were willing to reheat and consume leftovers of preprepared convenience meals. However, in general, the majority of the participants complied with the cooking instructions as much as possible. The interviews revealed the main reasons for using preprepared food products are  convenience” and a general belief that convenience foods are safe. Participants reported a high compliance with use-by dates and cooking instructions. However, problems relating to the size of the font, the level of detail and location of the instructions were identified. Overall, the online survey participants demonstrated relatively low safe behaviours in relation to the handling, storage, preparation and use of leftovers of convenience foods. Older participants had higher food safety knowledge and safer behaviours relating to convenience foods.

The research concluded that key information relating to ingredients, allergens, cooking instructions, reheating and freezing is missing from some preprepared convenience food products. It found that greater consumer compliance with product use-by dates and cooking instructions are required for better food safety. The research showed that some consumers reheat leftovers of preprepared convenience foods and consume them, which may have food safety implications, and that older consumers have a higher food safety knowledge and better behaviours relating to storage, heating and use of leftovers of preprepared convenience foods than younger consumers. It revealed that a number of variable factors infl uenced people’s behaviour relating to the handling, storage, preparation and use of leftovers of convenience foods. These included:
• Higher levels of food safety knowledge;
• Greater belief in use-by dates;
• Greater belief in susceptibility to food poisoning;
• Lower belief in the likelihood of getting food poisoning
from convenience foods;
• Greater perceptions around the severity of food poisoning;
• Higher age.



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A Day in the Life

Dr Gary McMahon, Company Microbiologist at Moy Park, discusses the need for ongoing vigiliance in the poultry industry 


A Lurgan native, Dr Gary McMahon had his first taste of Moy Park, a leading poultry producer, in 1988 when he took a summer job as an 18-year-old packing frozen coated chicken. While studying Applied Microbiology at Queen’s University Belfast, he worked holidays and weekends in the Moy Park Craigavon and Moira laboratories, across food and agricultural sampling. During this time, he completed his undergraduate dissertation on the application of novel products such as organic acids and trisodium phosphate to chicken carcasses. He continued working with the company, as well as several others, during his PhD in Food Science, researching biofi lms in the food processing environment.

Professional progress
Gary returned to Moy Park in July 1997 as a Trainee Technical Manager, initially based in the new laboratory at the Craigavon Technical Centre where he worked towards obtaining CLAS accreditation for the laboratory. “I realised that to progress my career in the direction I wanted, I had to seek out new experiences and so I successfully applied to move into Factory Technical within our Ready-to-Eat facility at Craigavon.” He remained there for four years, before moving to Factory Technical in the company’s primary processing facility at Dungannon where he took on a more customer-focused role. “I was promoted to Category Technical Manager for the Primary Division following a restructuring within our business, with technical responsibility for the four primary processing sites across GB and NI and all of their customers.” 

As the company grew and further necessary restructuring took place, Gary was appointed Category Technical Manager for Innovation, with responsibility for the four group laboratories, R&D projects, and Consumer Relations. He was subsequently appointed Company Microbiologist where his primary role is to oversee the management of Group Laboratories and Consumer Relations, a combined team of over 30 colleagues. The three laboratories, at Ballymena and Craigavon in Northern Ireland and Anwick in Lincolnshire, are managed directly by Laboratory Managers who report directly to the Group Laboratory Manager. “Within each laboratory there is a team of qualifi ed and experienced Senior Laboratory Analysts and Laboratory Analysts. There is also a small central support team of Quality Compliance Manager, LIMS Manager and Laboratories Coordinator. The Consumer Relations team is much smaller, but we have recently embarked on an apprenticeship scheme to aid our Succession planning.”

Daily duties
Day-to-day, he says, he is called in to support site, new product development and customer-facing teams across the business with any microbiological queries, and this can include direct face-to-face interactions with customers, both existing and new. “I have a responsibility to ensure our routine testing meets all legal and customer requirements and any investigatory work is focussed and beneficial. I have led a major Innovate UK project on Campylobacter which has resulted in industry-leading whole genome sequencing data and peer-reviewed publications. I have also represented the business by presenting at conferences, both nationally and internationally.” 

Gary enjoys the variety offered by the role and interacting with different colleagues and teams across the business. “The role allows you to keep abreast of technological advances, either within the realm of laboratory testing or within the factories themselves. There is great satisfaction in being part of a team that helps support the business to deliver favourable outcomes.” He also enjoys developing and maintaining relationships with customer contacts that he has built up over the years, sometimes through direct business dealings or in a social context at conferences. “More recently I helped lead the team as we embarked on our biggest Capex investment to date with the construction of a £1 million new laboratory facility at our Anwick site. This proved both exciting due to the scale of the investment and opportunities it provided, and challenging as this all took place during lockdown which impacted our initial timeline, but we still completed what we set out to achieve.” 

‘Perfecting the art of spinning plates’ is how Gary phrases one of the key challenges of his job. “Prioritising: some days you can have requests for support from multiple parts of our business, with each request being a high priority for the individual or department making the request. It’s important to ensure you remain available and don’t build up a backlog of queries.” It’s vital, too, he says, to avoid being ‘too technical’ when providing support and guidance. “It’s always a challenge with microbiology to try and keep the message or advice
simple, without losing the necessary context and detail.” 

10895610100?profile=RESIZE_400xStaying ahead
On the subject of food safety technology, Moy Park utilises ELISA technology at the Craigavon laboratory to ensure the most rapid pathogen testing possible, and at the Anwick laboratory for allergen testing. “We use rapid and automated equipment for serology testing of our flocks. Currently in our new Anwick laboratory facility, we are undertaking a Polymerase Chain Reaction trial – it’s a molecular method using the genetics of the organism – which we hope to use for both agricultural and food samples.” Maintaining food safety within the poultry industry is a matter of constant vigilance, Gary states. “Whilst we are now at very low levels of Campylobacter, it still needs to be managed, and all the learnings and interventions installed over the last 10-12 years are still in place and monitored daily.” Salmonella in poultry is a global challenge and whilst the UK and Ireland are at comparatively very low levels, this is only through strict adherence to proven procedures and biosecurity measures at feed mills, breeder farms, hatcheries and broiler farms, he says. “Whilst not a food safety challenge, avian influenza is probably the biggest microbiological challenge to the poultry industry at the current time. It is becoming endemic within the wild bird population in the UK and we are now seeing a continuous threat throughout the year rather than the seasonal trends we were used to.”

Earlier this year, Gary won the safefood Food Safety Champion Award at the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Awards. His entry involved Micro Risk Assessments, particularly around developing teams and increasing due diligence. “The initiative is an all-inclusive microbiological risk assessment package which has enabled a reduction in testing, whilst creating a more precise, science-based verification and validation determination of shelf-life from both a quality and safety perspective. The package includes a detailed written procedure, reference database for both safety and quality related microorganisms, easy to complete MRA template, new Organoleptic procedure and a training presentation.”

The reason for the initiative, he tells us, is that too often, technical personnel within the food industry have limited or very top line knowledge of microbiological matters. “Often the terminology or lack of clarity around the complexity of relationships between the microbes and the impact on foodstuffs, scares individuals away from delving too deep into the topic.”
The micro risk assessment sought to address this by:
• Removing the fear colleagues may have when dealing with microbiological topics and utilise this knowledge in their daily role outside of completing risk assessments.
• Showing colleagues that they do not need to retreat behind the perceived security blanket of testing, providing a full understanding why they are testing, and getting them to question if there is a real benefit and what the results really mean. For example, in its simplest terms, testing for a pathogen and obtaining a negative result does not confi rm its absence in the batch of product, but simply its absence in the 10g or 25g sample tested.


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In Safe Hands

Shay Hannon shares how the National Prepared Consumer Food Centre is helping Irish businesses navigate food safety


Qualifying with a degree in Environmental Health, Shay Hannon’s career in the food industry began in quality and product development. He worked in Newbridge Foods for three years, progressing through the company before moving to Lily O’Brien’s Chocolates where he spent eight years, rising to become Head of R&D and Technical: “I led the quality function, and the technical and research function, the area I was keen to develop in.” 

In 2017, the National Prepared Consumer Food Centre at Teagasc Food Research Centre at Ashtown in Dublin was established by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the
Marine in consultation with Teagasc, Food Drink Ireland’s Prepared Consumer Food company members, Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia. The role of the centre is to support
research, development and innovation in the Prepared Consumer Food sector through specialist expertise and state-of-the-art facilities. 
Shay joined as Centre Manager in 2019 and his enthusiasm for his job is evident. “It’s a dream job, especially for someone like me who is interested in food research and  development. The team and I are exposed to a lot of high-level science, and we pass on that knowledge to the wider food industry where we can.”

Collaborative approach
Shay and his team are currently working with approximately 120 Irish food companies, supporting them in a variety of ways. Client companies can use the facility for training, on equipment such as a mixer for example, or use the test kitchen facilities. “We could be involved in a more in-depth research project that might include a series of product trials over weeks or months.” One aspect of his role is helping companies to understand what is involved in shelf-life analysis and sensory analysis. “We can run trials in real-life  conditions in a humidity chamber or light cabinet as you would fi nd in a retail store. We can do indepth sensory analysis in our laboratory to understand how long a product will last and how it’s going to obtain its optimum quality.” While microbiological testing is essential, the sensory side of shelf life can, at times, be forgotten. “We really stress with food companies that it is about running both in tandem: You have to check the quality and sensory attributes of your food product in conjunction with the food safety aspects.” 
Shay often finds himself on the road, visiting a client’s factory or premises. While on-site, he focuses on lean manufacturing. “Sometimes you need to stand back and see if your process is efficient: Could you buy a better piece of equipment or add a different ingredient? Could there be savings, perhaps from an energy perspective?”

Novel processes
One such process that Shay would like to see implemented by an Irish food company is non-thermal processing. “Heat treatment of food products is historically the optimum way of extending shelf life and guaranteeing a food product is safe. In the last ten years, there have been massive technology advances in non-thermal processing such as high-pressure processing (HPP). Another example is pulse electric field technology (PEF) where the product is subjected to pulsed electrical currents. It’s widely used in other countries for the pasteurisation of fruit juice and that’s an area we want to tap into with Irish manufacturers. They could potentially install that technology and it could cost a fraction of a heat treatment system. It also uses very little energy. A big win for us would see an Irish company adapt that technology because of the 
work we have done here.”

Market trends and forces
Much of the work undertaken at the centre is led by consumer trends, Shay says, citing the rising interest in plant-based products, beverages, and meat alternatives over the last
year. “Covid presented a unique set of challenges, but it also presented opportunities, such as immune boosting and fortified foods. A lot of the products we have worked on in the
last couple of months have some degree of added nutritional benefit and how companies are incorporating those benefits into their standard product: how to infuse vitamins and
minerals into a product.” 

In the food business sector, which was heavily impacted by the pandemic, Shay’s team helped companies in the chilled ready meal category to increase their products’ shelf-life capability. “We did a number of trials and advised several companies on how to extend shelf life, and what packaging to use. That’s grown business opportunities for those companies which they have retained post-covid.”

Global challenges are ongoing for food companies and the war in Ukraine is an example of how external forces can impact a small food business: guaranteeing the supply chain. “When you aren’t guaranteed supply of a product, it can potentially open the market to adulteration. I believe that what has been implemented at European level over the last ten years has safeguarded against that, but it is always a concern, particularly for smaller clients.” 

Advice and guidance
There is an advisory side to the role, too, and Shay works closely with the Food Safety Authority to offer guidance to businesses, particularly those in the start-up phase. “We help
them decipher legislation and regulation, particularly in terms of shelf life. It can be complex, and simple things such as what goes on the back of the pack. We have to help them to develop a safe process and help them to understand that the product has to be safe. It’s the foundation for every food product.” He would encourage food companies to visit the centre to discuss potential projects and see the equipment and technology available. “The centre can be utilised in a number of ways: for our expertise, where I or a member of our staff goes to a site to do an assessment of the product or process or work alongside a company to develop a product, trial or process.”

Additionally, companies can rent a facility at the centre, and use the equipment with training and guidance from Shay and his team. “Once the product is developed, we guide them through the analysis required: safety analysis, nutritional analysis. If the client wants to make a nutritional claim, we decipher the legislation for them and send the product for accredited analysis and then inform them of what they can and cannot claim. It’s a complex area for small companies to understand, legally, what you can say on your pack and label.”

Industry challenges
Understanding the requirements around shelf life and labelling are the key challenges for small food businesses and, he says, the biggest mistake a company can make is rushing product development and launching before the product is ready. Shay would urge companies to do all their due diligence, testing, sensory analysis, and even consumer trials before going to market. “Making a claim that isn’t legal, such as ‘high in protein’, when it isn’t, is a key issue. We are wary of claims such as ‘highly nutritious’, or ‘good for you’. I tell every company: it has to be ‘Ronsealed’: it has to do what it says on the tin and if it doesn’t, the claim can’t be made. We have a brilliant reputation in Ireland for producing high quality, safe food and it’s the responsibility of, not just Teagasc and the centre, but of every food company to guarantee that.”

The best part of the job, he says, is seeing the finished product. “The thrill for me is seeing a company leave here with a product or process and knowing that we have helped them on that journey. Sometimes I flick through the Aldi or Lidl or some other retailer magazine, and I see a client’s product and that gives me great pleasure. Ultimately, what we are doing here is helping to create jobs and businesses.”


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In our endeavours to reduce single-use plastic, David Burrows asks, are we putting food safety at risk? 10894519261?profile=RESIZE_400x

New laws to encourage higher recycling rates and reduce the amount of single-use plastic packaging have come thick and fast in recent years. Some of the most commonly littered items are being banned in the EU and UK; levels of recycled plastic used in ‘new’ packaging are rising (following voluntary commitments and plastic taxes), while companies are set to be charged more for using packaging that isn’t easily recyclable. The policies aren’t perfect, but the direction of travel is positive – and pacy. This is good news: plastic pollution must be controlled, and all single-use packaging reduced to achieve a circular economy (and cut carbon emissions). But is this drive for circularity putting food safety at risk?

Calls for tighter regulations on the chemicals used in food and drink packaging are growing – and, in particular, there is concern about the flow of chemicals in circular packaging systems. “The hazardous chemicals [are] in the original virgin products so when you recycle them, they do not disappear,” suggests Dorota Napierska, policy offi cer on toxic-free consumption and production at Zero Waste Europe. 

In September, Zero Waste Europe, together with the Health and Environment Alliance, CHEM Trust and ClientEarth, launched a new campaign. “Harmful chemicals in recycled #FoodContactMaterials can put the #CircularEconomy and our health at risk,” they tweeted, with an infographic entitled ‘Misconceptions about food contact materials’. Their use of the phrase “toxic recycling” was deliberately emotive.

Substances of concern
In Europe, some 8,000 chemicals can be used in food packaging and other food contact materials (FCMs). Chemicals are added to packaging to give it certain properties like durability and stiffness, but some migrate into the food and many of these can now be found in the human body and in the environment, according to the Toxic-Free Food Packaging campaign, which was launched by NGOs across Europe this year. The Toxic-Free Food Packaging campaign website describes how one of the most common ways Europeans are exposed to harmful chemicals is through food and beverages, and the products used to package, store and cook food. Consumers are, “constantly exposed to the mixture of chemicals migrating from the food packaging”, explains Lisa Zimmerman from the Food Packaging Forum (FPF), a non-profit foundation based in Switzerland. “And what is becoming more and more clear [from] more scientifi c studies on the topic is that among these chemicals are a lot of substances of concern.”

Zimmerman was recently involved in a study with experts from ETH Zürich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) which presented an overview of chemicals intentionally used in FCMs that are harmful according to the EU’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. Their research, published in a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Hazardous Materials in June, identifi ed 388 food contact chemicals of concern, including 352 substances that are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic to reproduction and 22 endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These 388 chemicals are lawfully used but, “should be considered for immediate phase-out from intentional use in FCMs”, the authors noted.

“Do we need all these chemicals?” wonders Zimmerman. As well as the chemicals intentionally added to packaging there are many more non-intentionally added substances (Nias) –impurities, contaminants, and by-products of processing for example. Much less is known about these and the impact they have but for several types of food contact materials migration of Nias is, “more signifi cant than migration of intentionally used substances”, according to a consensus statement published by 33 scientists in the journal Environmental Health in 2020.

Recycling risks
That article raised a number of concerns about the impacts of food contact chemicals on human health and the gaps in regulating them. The experts looked at 1,200 peer-reviewed papers relating to food contact chemicals describing the “areas of certainty, like the fact that chemicals migrate from food contact articles into food, and uncertainty, for example unidentified chemicals migrating into food”. They also found that chemical safety was being “ignored” as solutions are developed toward reuse, recycling and alternative materials.

“Recycling processes may increase the levels of chemicals found in, and therefore migrating from, food packaging,” said co-author Olwenn Martin from Brunel University London. “This aspect needs to be considered at the design stage for solutions to be truly sustainable.”

In research published by the US Environment Protection Agency recently, the samples with the fewest confi rmed and probable chemicals were virgin plastic food contact items – the recycled samples had double the number (22). The experts suggested that “the circular nature of the recycling economy may have the potential to introduce additional chemicals into

But this is a sensitive subject that sits uneasily in the spotlight on sustainability. Just as the public has swung in support of moves to tackle an environmental crisis (plastic pollution) they are being warned of potential food safety and health risks from recycled packaging. The food and drink brands have also made stretching targets to incorporate more and more recycled plastic into their packaging.

“The importance of the circular economy is paramount and anything that undermines [it] puts at risk a system that has the potential to make enormous in-roads into the reductions in carbon we must make globally,” a source from the recycling sector told Ends Report recently. He also said that tracking chemicals through the production, use and the disposal and recovery chain is “without doubt the conundrum we must [all] solve”. 

Both the World Health Organization and the UN have raised concerns about the food safety issues presented by the chemicals in recycled materials. Heather Leslie, an ecotoxicologist who previously worked at the Institute for Environmental Studies at University of Amsterdam, says “it’s a pity that there is so much focus on CO2, which isn’t toxic at all, while the actual toxic chemicals our daily lives are drenched in take a back seat”.

Greener and safer?
It’s not just plastic that there’s a potential problem with either. Fidra, an environmental charity based in Scotland, has found high levels of potentially toxic chemicals in supermarket packaging as well as that of pizza boxes, takeaway bags and food boxes from brands including Caffè Nero, Costa, Dominos, Greggs, Pizza Hut, Pret a Manger and Starbucks. Its research revealed significant levels of PFAS (per and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) present in 90% of food packaging tested.

Fidra’s advice is to opt for reusables where possible – which could reduce not only chemical exposure but carbon emissions too. PFAS are a group of more than 4,700 chemicals used in packaging applications such as barrier coatings to provide resistance against heat, oil, grease, and water. These are considered ‘forever chemicals’ because of their ability to accumulate permanently in the environment. Fidra senior project manager Clare Cavers says the chemicals have also been found in high quantities in rigid compostable packaging, like the clam-shell containers used for fi sh and chips. This kind of packaging is often perceived as ‘greener’ and by default ‘safer’ but from a toxicological perspective, biodegradable and bio-based packaging is not any better than conventional plastics, says Zimmerman. No one material is better than another and it’s impossible to tell until you test them for chemicals, she adds. 

Food brands and packaging companies point to the EU standards and laws they adhere to. Some have already been spooked enough into acting though. Restaurant Brands International (which owns Burger King) and Yum (which owns KFC and Pizza Hut) are among the companies to have committed to remove PFAS from packaging by 2025 (Yum is also removing phthalates and BPA).

In July, McKinsey, a consultancy, warned companies that the net is closing in on chemicals used in packaging, and urged them to take a more “proactive approach”. Indeed, as well as the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability a review of the EU’s food contact materials regulation is underway – that started in 2018 and in June a fi nal evaluation of the rules was published by the European Commission. This concluded the rules are “partly effective” but plenty of issues were raised. Gaps in the regulations included the lack of specific rules
for FCMs other than plastic – the current legislation is also “largely incompatible with current trends in the switch […] to more novel or natural, sustainable alternatives”, according to McKinsey. There were also uncertainties around new recycling technologies like chemical recycling. Little information was flowing through the supply chain and the system of enforcement needs to be improved.

Chemical fix
Transparency around which chemicals are added in the first place must be improved, says Heather Leslie. “There are currently no ingredient lists publicly available [and, as far as I can see,] no intentions to create openness. Even designers and manufacturers have diffi culty accessing the information about what chemicals are in the plastics they procure to make their products.” 

The regulations for food contact materials, including packaging, are in need of an overhaul, it seems. Basic food contact legislation is 45 years old, notes Napierska and “has never been systematically evaluated”. She and others want legislation to be reshaped in line with a key principle of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability: to eliminate hazardous chemicals from products. “It’s time to ensure proper protection from our real-life exposure to a large number of different chemicals,” she wrote in a recent blog.

Consumers certainly expect to be protected. Research presented earlier this year by the Federation of German consumer organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband, VZBV) and summarised by FPF showed that when it comes to packaging, consumers are concerned with sustainability but “clueless” about the chemicals used and “assume that no unsafe food contact materials are on the market”. The large number of chemicals on the market, the complexity of material flows, the lack of data on the presence of chemicals in products and the impact these substances have on the environment and human health as they mix and flow through our world makes this a fiercely complicated area to regulate. But the rules to protect food safety need to keep pace with those designed to protect the planet. 

“We have to pay attention to where toxic chemicals are added and how they flow because we don’t want them waltzing in and out of biological systems, after having leached out of the products they once inhabited,” explains Heather Leslie. “In discussions of the circular economy it’s often forgotten that it only truly works as intended when we weed out the toxics first.”


David Burrows is a freelance writer specialising in sustainability within the food chain. A graduate in agricultural sciences, he researches and writes features and reports for  publications including Just-,, FoodserviceFootprint. com, Poultry Business, Pig World, The Grocer, and Transform.


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Quiz Time


Try your hand at this issue’s quiz and you could be in with a chance to win a fantastic prize!

Question 1: Cawl is the national dish of what country?
Question 2: What animal’s milk is Manchego cheese made from?
Question 3: What is stromboli?
Question 4: What type of sausage begins with M?
Question 5: Which one of these is a type of melon: Sprite; Casaba; Chantenay
Question 6: What colour is a Kuri squash?
Question 7: What is the edible part of an artichoke known as? 
Question 8: From what part of the pig is guanciale made?
Question 9: What pastry is used in a baklava?
Question 10: What is a gobo?

safefood is delighted to offer one lucky quiz winner a fantastic food hamper (similar to pictured).


To enter: Simply complete the quiz above and send your answers to before 4 November 2022. This competition is open to Knowledge Network members on the island of Ireland only.
Congratulations to Dr Cristina Arroyo Casabona of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland who was the winner of issue 23’s quiz.
Answers: 1) Cocoa bean 2) Scurvy 3) Nectar 4) Greece 5) Zucchini 6) Macaroni 7) Sushi 8) Austria 9) Pomegranate 10) Extra virgin olive oil

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