New citizen science project to study bacteria found on cutting boards

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Researchers at Aston University’s College of Health and Life Sciences have received funding to explore the microbiome of the kitchen cutting board with the help of “citizen scientists.” The grant comes from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as part of a larger project to investigate challenges related to food standards.

The new citizen science project plans to recruit participants from underrepresented communities in the West Midlands to study the levels of foodborne bacteria in the home and produce educational materials for their communities.

Citizen science projects put the public at the heart of the research process. Rather than being the subjects of research, citizens are actively involved in data collection and analysis, and even decide what questions they want to ask and co-develop approaches with researchers Citizen science also gives participants the opportunity to directly contribute to scientific research and influence policy.

The School of Biosciences research team will recruit citizen scientists through its students, who will act as ambassadors in their own homes and communities. The team will create methods for sampling bacteria from cutting boards and collate their observations with their team of citizen scientists and ambassadors.

This will allow researchers to identify the bacteria present and determine their antimicrobial resistance (AMR) profiles, offering ambassadors and citizens the opportunity to perform laboratory research.

The researchers, alongside their ambassadors and citizens, will then co-design and disseminate educational material on food hygiene adapted to their target communities and based on the results of the study.

Dr Alan Goddard, Senior Lecturer at the School of Biosciences and Project Leader, said:

“Many foodborne infections start in the home, often due to poor hygiene where cutting boards provide an opportunity for raw food to become contaminated.

“This is why this project is an exciting opportunity to work with our students and our communities to investigate a microbiological problem that causes significant disease each year. By working with the public, we have privileged access to authentic environments and can ensure that our solutions are appropriate. “

Currently, around 40% of foodborne illness outbreaks in Europe occur at home, with around 2.4 million cases of food poisoning occurring in the UK each year, resulting in 180 deaths. A common source of such infections is poor food hygiene, with cutting boards, where raw food can become contaminated, playing a key role in the chain of infection. Misunderstandings or poor food hygiene can therefore contribute to a significant disease burden.

This exciting project brings together the expertise of academic researchers with the natural curiosity of members of the public to co-develop and undertake a research project that has the potential to have a real impact on reducing the burden of foodborne illness in the House. “

Professor Anthony Hilton, Executive Dean, College of Health and Life Sciences

The FSA and UKRI have awarded a total of £ 200,000 to fund six projects to bring together the public and researchers to investigate the challenges of food standards.

The six projects include exploring for bacteria on home-grown produce, parents testing the safety of infant formula, and people with food hypersensitivity testing for allergens in foods purchased online.

The citizen science projects are all related to the themes of the FSA’s areas of research interest, covering issues such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), food hypersensitivity and food safety and hygiene in the home. . Funding was provided in collaboration with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), both of which are part of UKRI. This is part of a larger effort to coordinate activities and develop a common approach to tackling the challenges of maintaining food safety in the UK.
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FSA Chief Science Advisor Professor Robin May said:

“I am delighted that the FSA is supporting these exciting citizen science projects across the country. In addition to providing invaluable data, these projects will enable the communities we serve to help build the evidence upon which policy decisions are made. We are committed to using science and evidence to solve the latest food issues and citizen science is a fantastic way to do that.

Aston University’s kitchen hash microbiome citizen science project will start in January 2022 and end in July 2022.


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