Researchers join forces with the public to investigate food safety

Washing vegetables

UKRI and The Food Standards Agency (FSA) have announced a new collaboration which will engage the public to tackle food standards challenges.

A total of £200,000 will fund six projects that connect researchers with members of the public to explore a range of important issues around food safety.

These projects will help to bring the public into the research process and enable food standards researchers to benefit from a greater diversity of experiences and perspectives.

Keeping our food safe

All funded projects are linked to the FSA’s Areas of Research Interest themes which address emerging risks to ensure that UK food safety regulation is modern, agile and represents consumers.

They form part of a wider effort to coordinate activities and develop a joined-up approach to tackle the challenges of maintaining safe food in the UK.

They will explore important food safety issues such as:

  • antimicrobial resistance (AMR)
  • food hypersensitivity
  • food hygiene in the home.

Committing to citizen science

The funding has been delivered in collaboration with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Economic and Social research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) commitment to citizen-led research.

Citizen science projects such as these put the public at the heart of the research process and give everyone the opportunity to directly contribute to scientific research.

This investment will enable people to take a leading role in research that directly affects them including:

  • parents testing the safety of baby formula
  • people with food hypersensitivities analysing the allergens in food bought online.

Bringing unique perspectives to research

Tom Saunders, Head of Public Engagement at UKRI said:

UKRI is committed to breaking down the barriers between research and society and one way we can do this is by enabling the public to be actively involved in research.

These exciting citizen science projects will support people from outside of the research and innovation system to bring their lived experience and unique perspectives into the research process, tackling important issues around food safety and standards.

We look forward to sharing the outcomes and lessons from these projects with policymakers and the research and innovation community.

Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair at BBSRC said:

Ensuring the sustainable production, integrity and safety of our food are critical challenges that require different disciplines to work together to develop new approaches and novel solutions.

BBSRC recognises that public dialogue and engagement around food is an essential part of that and these citizen science projects can demonstrate the power of involving the public in scientific research and make important contributions to maintaining the integrity of our food system.

Professor Robin May, Chief Scientific Advisor for the FSA said:

I’m delighted that the FSA and UKRI are supporting these exciting citizen science projects across the country.

In addition to delivering invaluable data, these projects will allow the communities we serve to help build the evidence on which policy decisions are made.

We are committed to using science and evidence to tackle the latest food-related issues and citizen science is a fantastic way of doing this.

Further information

List of funded projects

Citizen science and antimicrobial resistance: Dr Sarah West, University of York

A pilot study to collect data about food handling practices and AMR bacteria associated with home-grown produce and what impact involvement has on citizens’ knowledge and understanding of food safety and AMR.

Engaging food hypersensitive communities in citizen science: Prof Julie Barnett, University of Bath

This study will explore the experience of people with food hypersensitivities when eating out and what the implications are for relevant industry, policy and practitioner stakeholders.

Exploring the chopping board microbiome: Dr Alan Goddard, Aston University

This project will engage underrepresented communities in the West Midlands to investigate levels of foodborne bacteria in the home and produce educational materials for their communities.

Finding the right formula, establishing the feasibility of doing science in the home to assess the safety of Powdered Infant Formula preparation: Dr Aimee Grant, Swansea University

A collaborative community science project developed between parents and researchers to test the safety of Powdered Infant Formula prepared at home.

Food allergy awareness champions: Towards improving food safety standards in online food procurement for people with food hypersensitivity: Dr Tassos Koidis, Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University Belfast

This project aims to understand the safety, efficiency, practices, and behaviours of people with food hypersensitivities when buying food online.

Using citizen science to explore plant breeding and investigate food-chain transparency for novel breeding methods: Dr Gulbanu Kaptan, University of Leeds

This pilot project aims to improve participants’ knowledge of the use of new technologies and gene editing in the food-chain. Participants will be involved at the design and data collection stages of the research.

They will also take part in an interactive training and discussion session where they can improve their knowledge of plant breeding and novel methods.

Top image:  Credit whitelook, Getty Images

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