Listeriosis, a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, is an important public health concern in North America. The risk of listerosis can be reduced through safe food preparation, handling and storage practises and many food companies take proactive measures to prevent listeria bacteria from contaminating their food products.
Research into listeria is ongoing, and scientific discoveries that may help prevent listeriosis outbreaks are always welcome news.
A new initiative to help protect consumers from listeriosis was announced in Ottawa, Ontario on June 27, 2013. Genome Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions have partnered on a major research initiative to help protect consumers from listeriosis.
Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization that invests in genomics research to generate economic and social benefits for Canadians. Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions is a publicly funded board-governed corporation that works with partners to coordinate research to help solve industry challenges and deliver economic, environmental and social benefits. Together with the CFIA, these groups bring a wealth of knowledge and resources to put behind this initiative.
The listeriosis project is being led by Dr. Linda Chui of the University of Alberta. Her team will sequence and map the genomes of many listeria strains to identify those that are likely to be most harmful to human health and survive in food processing facilities. Through this joint research effort, a database of Listeria genome sequences will be developed and genetic markers identified. These markers will be used to spot harmful Listeria strains in foods and food processing facilities in a faster, more cost-effective way.
This project shows how Canada’s leadership in genomics-based research benefits Canadians by helping protect them from serious foodborne illness, while also developing a more competitive food sector.
Dr. Chui’s 18-month research project will come at a cost of $1.4 million dollars. It is being supported through an investment of $250,000 each from Genome Canada and the CFIA, and $100,000 from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions. Co-funding will come from federal, provincial, academic and industry partners, including Maple Leaf Foods.
New Listeria detection tests that produce quick results will allow food producers and regulators to act swiftly, thus protecting the health of Canadian consumers. These types of initiatives provide assurance of an even higher level of food safety for all Canadians.