Foodborne Disease Research Programme (B14)

Details of the Agency-funded foodborne disease research programme.


The objective of the Microbiological Food Safety research theme is to provide robust information on the presence, growth, survival and elimination of micro-organisms throughout the food chain; and the extent, distribution, causes and costs of foodborne disease. Within this theme, research will be commissioned in support of the Agency's strategy to achieve a reduction in the incidence of food-borne disease by 20% over a five-year period.


The overall contribution of food to the burden of infectious intestinal disease (IID) is not known. Outputs from this programme will improve our understanding of the behaviour, physiology and epidemiology of food poisoning organisms and will assist the Agency's foodborne disease strategy and in meeting the target to reduce food-borne disease by 20% over a five-year period.

Campylobacter is the major cause of IID and this organism will be a particular focus of the programme. Work undertaken will include the contribution made by the food chain to the problem of Campylobacter. The contribution of foreign travel to the overall burden of food poisoning will also be investigated and an additional focus will be to compare the incidence of disease in different parts of the UK.

C. perfringens is frequently associated with gastroenteritis in humans. The Agency's 5-year strategy identifies C. perfringens as one of the five organisms for which action is required to reduce the number of cases. This programme contains research to further our understanding of the physiology and behaviour of C. perfringens including toxin production. The programme also contains work on other species of Clostridia that may contaminate food. There is a lack of information on the basic physiology of species such as C. tertium, C. bifermentans and C. butyricum and this programme should generate information on their minimum temperature, pH and water activity for growth and their potential to form toxins.

The Study of Infectious Intestinal Disease in England (the IID Study) demonstrated that Enteroaggregative E. coli (EaggEC), which are a diverse group of the enterovirulent E. coli, are a significant cause of IID in humans. Detection of EaggEC in clinical or food samples is currently limited to specialist laboratories because of the lack of widely available methods for detecting these bacteria. This lack of routine methodology also means our knowledge of the pathways by which EaggEC are transmitted to humans is limited. The work undertaken in this programme will expand our knowledge of this group of E. coli and develop a routine detection method that can be used to screen clinical, food and environmental samples.

The IID Study also resulted in an archive of faecal specimens from both the cases and controls that were involved in the study. To facilitate further work on the samples this programme will establish an archive of the microbial nucleic acid from the archived faecal specimens. This nucleic acid archive will then be investigated using molecular approaches to further identify the causes and burden of illness from IID, particularly in cases where a target organism or toxin was not found during the original study.


The Agency has a target to reduce the incidence of food-borne disease by 20% over a five-year period. The foodborne disease strategy has identified 5 organisms against which the target to reduce laboratory reports will be measured: Campylobacter, Salmonella, C. perfringens, E. coli O157 and L. monocytogenes. In order to reduce food poisoning, research needs to be funded to improve our understanding of the physiology, virulence and epidemiology of these main food poisoning organisms and to develop the methods to do this (e.g. typing methods). This programme is designed to address this in broad terms, for example by investigating options for improving surveillance of gastroenteritis in humans, as well as targeting specific causes of food poisoning, such as outbreaks of C. perfringens due to handling errors in food preparation. The programme aims to provide a better understanding of the main food poisoning organisms and a microbiological framework for the development of intervention strategies to reduce foodborne disease.

Contact for further information

Louise Knowles
020 7276 8966