Food safety and phytosanitary research

Hazard management of regulated (micro)organisms and toxins they produce.

Managing hazards that occur with a low probability combined with a high social and economic impact is a challenge. In collaboration with our partners, we exploit our profound knowledge of microbes and the key factors in their life cycle to identify critical control points in agricultural production systems and design and validate effective prevention and intervention strategies.

Phytosanitary research

The increasing globalisation in production and trade of plants and plant products and world-wide tourism increased the risk of the introduction and spread of plant pests and pathogens considerably.

These harmful organisms might have a profound economic and ecological impact if they can establish themselves in these new environments. Hygiene in seed production and plant propagation and the availability of efficient tools for detection play a key role particularly to prevent (starting) plant material from infections by latent or non-symptomatic infections which may contaminate the production chain later.

Our experts give advice to authorities

Within Europe there is a comprehensive program to prevent the introduction of quarantine organisms and pests from infested areas and intervention strategies to counteract risks for spreading after an unwanted introduction. We advise national and international authorities like the Ministry of Economic Affairs, EPPO and EFSA on technical aspects to support political decisions and legislation and co-operate with them in technical committees. We coordinate and lead taskforces for correct identification of species and harmonization of detection assays with ISTA, IPPC, EPPO and EFSA and participate in control and survey programs.

We perform risk analyses to assess the potential impact of an organism after a possible introduction and derive control strategies. We develop assays and procedures for the detection of target organisms by NPPO’s (national plant protection organisation) and Inspection Services. With our efforts we help to prevent spreading of quarantaine organisms and to assure plant health.

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Microbiological safety

Human pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli occasionally can be present in freshly consumed products like vegetables, sprouts and fruits.

The presence of these pathogens can lead to disease outbreaks among consumers. Such outbreaks have been reported in the past. Sources of these infections in growing plants are not always clear. Main infection sources can be manure, irrigation and run-off water, but also other, unknown, sources may play a role in transmission of these pathogens to plants.

Our role is to explore the most likely transmission routes to plants and to investigate how human pathogens can become genetically adapted to plants. Together with partners we investigate consequences for human health. The outcome of our experimental work leads to prevention and interception strategies to avoid contamination of these infective agents in the fresh produce chain.

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Mycotoxins and mycotoxin producing fungi

The occurrence of mycotoxins in agricultural products is a major concern in food and feed supply chains.

These secondary metabolites occur in many staple crops and are subject of extensive research around the globe. Mycotoxins are detrimental for consumers and their occurrence is therefore legislated in many countries, including Europe, US and China. Fusarium, Aspergillus and Penicillium are the most important fungal species that produce mycotoxins. We have broad expertise on Fusarium epidemiology, populations and genomics.

Best practices for wheat and maize

Our focus is on development of academically sound hazard management strategies by identifying and monitoring critical control points and by assessment of the efficacy of preventive control measures and rational intervention strategies. We have implemented our knowledge and experience in this field in best practices for wheat and maize production chains in temperate and tropical climate zones.

Food safety

Our research has guided food and feed producers and legislators regarding food safety. Quality assurance systems, including Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP), have been introduced and implemented at food producers to meet legislative requirements that have led to a significant increase of highly effective monitoring systems.

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