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New Research in Food safety at the 13th ASEAN Food Conference, Singapore 2013

The biennial ASEAN Food Conference is the leading forum for the food industry and research community in the region. The theme of the 13th ASEAN Food Conference held on the 9th-11th September 2013 in Singapore was “Meeting Future Food Demands: Security and Sustainability”.

Issues of malnutrition, undernutrition, and sustainable production were certainly important topics. However the themes were interpreted quite broadly to encompass, for example, how improvement in nutritional quality and food safety could benefit consumer health and community livelihoods, and help to address the alarming worldwide escalation in diet-related and lifestyle diseases. Sustainability was discussed less in terms of environmental impact, and more in terms of innovations in food processing, quality and safety to sustain long-term food industries.

The program included sessions on: managing innovation, nutrition & health, food chemistry & biochemistry, sensory science & consumer studies, food microbiology, food engineering, food processing, food product development, protein and weight management, food safety, food science and technology education, functional foods, nanotechnology of food, food analysis and quality assurance, and management of allergens in the food chain. The full program is available online, click here. 

The conference was about food generally, but some interesting topics relevant to produce safety included:

  • Development of a fermentation process to produce a natural preservative called phenyllactic acid (PLA) from Lactobacillus plantarum bacteria. The PLA was shown to have antimicrobial activity against a variety of pathogens and extended the shelf-life of fresh-cut pineapple and bottled pineapple juice (Bui Kim Thuy, Nguyen Duy Lam, and Nguyen Thi Hoai Tram).
  • Development of a Surface Plasmon Resonance biosensor and sensor chips with antibodies specific to Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella Enteritidis, and Listeria monocytogenes. The biosensor is an experimental format that, if successful, would allow convenient simultaneous detection of target bacteria (Zhang Xiaoguang, Sachiko Tsuji, Ken-ichi Honjoh, and Takahisa Miyamoto).
  • Direct irradiation with LED has bactericidal effects on E. coli O157:H7, S. Typhimurium, and L. monocytogenes dependent on the pH of the medium and LED wavelength – blue is better than green! (Vinayak Ghate, Leong Ai Ling, and Yuk Hyun-Gyun).
  • Chitosan is a natural antimicrobial and antilisterial agent. Electron microscopy suggested that chitosan kills the bacteria by interfering with cell membrane permeability and causing leakage of cell contents (Juthamas Tantala, Titima Sukmark, Masubon Thongngam, Kanjana Thumanu, Pornchai Rachtanapun, Chitsiri Rachtanapun).
  • Establishment of a microbial risk assessment and food safety system for the Singapore retail sector by the National Environment Agency (NEA). The NEA is a government agency that has brought together regulatory activity and research to develop and deliver a risk-based inspection and education service. A unique feature of this relates to the cultural popularity of ready-to-eat food bought from stalls, which have special hygiene challenges (Ramona A  Gutierrez and Ng Lee Ching).
  • Site visit to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, which is the national food safety agency. Singapore imports 90% of its food from all over the world and has extremely well-resourced labs to test for chemical contaminants, additives and preservatives, drug residues, pesticide residues, food pathogens, foodborne parasites, physical quality, GMO, and other toxins. It also provides export certification, accreditation of food businesses, and food safety education; implements labelling and advertisement regulations and food recalls; and has a variety of roles relating to the animals and pet sector.