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Research topics

Following the 'one health' concept in food science: Microbiome research as a connecting force to link microbial dynamics to food safety

The One Health concept is a multidisciplinary cross-sectorial approach for holistic solutions related to human–animal–environment interactions. Human, animal and environmental health are strongly linked, as are their microbes. In food production, the microbial landscape is influenced by human intervention, and dependent on the product’s origin, an individual food microbiome builds up during food processing. Microbial dynamics in food are of utmost importance, because these dynamics influence final product properties, contribute to determining shelf-life, can lead to food spoilage, and ultimately affect health, food security and availability. All stages in the production chain influence the quality of the final product, whereby microbial contamination is often a hidden, stochastic process that is complex to trace and monitor and that can occur during each processing step (Choi et al., 2013).

It is estimated that ~1.3 billion tons of food are discarded worldwide each year, equivalent to ~30% of food products in primary processing (Vilariño et al., 2017). This food loss is mainly caused by microbial spoilage in primary processing and microbial re-contamination events (WHO, 2015; Huis In’t Veld, 1996; Buzby et al., 2014). The reduction of food waste is one of the major sustainable development goals of the United Nations and the European Union. In 2015, the United Nations included “Responsible production and consumption” and “Zero hunger” as two sustainable development goals (UN General Assembly, 2015), and the more efficient use of resources by reducing food loss along the production chain is among their highest priorities.

Understanding how microbes contribute to the final properties of a product improves the quality and safety of food products. Basic concepts of microbial ecology as an integral part of food microbiology are now applicable, due to advances in high-throughput sequencing technologies and bioinformatics analysis tools.

We have a special interest in

  • Microbial flows within the 'one health' context (from farm to fork to gut)
  • The interaction of microbiomes with each other and with nutrition sources available in products and along production chains
  • The behavior of spoilage microbes and pathogens within a microbial community in products and along production chains
  • Mechanisms underlying microbial spoilage
  • Protective culture and starter culture dynamics
  • Modeling microbial transmission scenarios during food processing and along production chains
  • Pathogen mitigation strategies