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Leatherhead Opens DirtyLab

Published: Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 28, 2013
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Leatherhead’s Food Safety Day saw the official opening of its Pathogen Pilot Plant, DirtyLab, a new facility for pathogen challenge testing.

This new facility, with category II containment capabilities, allows Leatherhead to deliberately contaminate both conventional and new food products with pathogens in order to investigate the fate of such micro-organisms under selected processing conditions.

Dr Wayne Morley, Head of Food Safety, Leatherhead Food Research, says: “DirtyLab aims to support and expand our existing capabilities for challenge testing by providing an environment that directly replicates a food production area, but without introducing risks to the commercial production of food. It is an excellent facility for Members and clients to further ensure the safety of their products.”

DirtyLab can be used to validate the effectiveness of methods, processes and equipment against known micro-organisms. There is a huge scope for projects of different types to be undertaken within the facility.

A complex food process can be undertaken, for instance the manufacture of a charcuterie product, and the manufacturing process itself can be challenged, as well as the final product.

On the opposing side of food production, the cleaning and disinfection process for specific equipment can also be validated; for example, the cleaning methodology for drinks dispenser units can be assessed and evaluated.

For food itself, products can be produced and stored in controlled temperatures and humidity conditions over the product shelf-life.

DirtyLab also facilitates the verification of processing methods, preservatives and different packaging technologies on a pilot plant scale, which is a key area of Member interest.

Dr Paul Cook of the Microbiological Food Safety Branch, Food Standards Agency, opened DirtyLab in front of over 100 Leatherhead Members and associates: “DirtyLab is an important facility to have, both for Leatherhead and for Leatherhead’s Members and the food industry in general. I know from personal experience, having worked in a Food Science laboratory at a university, the challenge of doing experiments on a pilot scale from the benchtop through to full scale production. It is important that we are able to look at how a product behaves not only at the benchtop but in situations that simulate what happens in real processing facilities. I think this is an exciting opportunity for Leatherhead and I wish them all the best for the future in this venture.”

Several confidential projects have already reaped the benefits of Leatherhead’s DirtyLab. In addition, a Member-funded Forum project on pathogens in low-moisture foods, is currently being carried out in the facility; research is being undertaken to systematically establish the heat resistance and survival of pathogens in dry foods such as nuts, seeds, powder ingredients and flavours.

DirtyLab is also being used to evaluate the survival of Salmonella in paprika; and Leatherhead’s next study will look into the survival of salmonellae and Cronobacter sakazakii in dry infant formula.


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