SUSSLE Project gets Top Marks from Defra

A three year research programme to sustainably extend the shelf life of chilled foods has attracted the highest possible score after evaluation by the government’s Advanced Food Manufacturing LINK Programme Management Committee (PMC).

The £750k Sustainable Shelf Life Extension (SUSSLE) project was partly funded by CFA and brought together academics and industry to investigate the effects of heat processing on sporeforming pathogens, specifically non-proteolytic C. botulinum. The aim being to define a milder heat process than is currently recommended, ensuring a safe shelf life for prepared chilled foods whilst reducing energy usage.

Outputs from SUSSLE will remain confidential until April 2014 however the project has now been evaluated by the Defra programme that jointly funded the work (together with CFA, BBSRC and Unilever). In his letter to CFA Dr David Cole, Programme Co-ordinator at LINK praised the project: “SUSSLE is an extremely good example of what can be achieved in LINK through a strong and focused industry-academic collaboration. The Project Management Committee has awarded a maximum score of 10.”

The PMC, which includes the project’s uncle Professor Peter Lillford CBE of the University of York said: “The project has delivered on ambitious objectives by taking a novel scientific approach to address important gaps in knowledge, deriving models of real potential for the industry and leading in its field.”

And speaking as Chairman of the Governing Trustees of the Institute of Food Research Professor Lillford added: “We are delighted to see the close co-operation of our scientists with industry. This is a fine example of how we would wish to contribute to the health and profitability of our UK industries.”

To ensure highest standards and a meticulous scientific approach an international Expert Group was recruited to monitor the work in an international context. The Group included Dr Roy Betts who is Head of Microbiology at Campden BRI: “I am delighted to have been part of this exciting and innovative project. The Expert Group played a critical role by ensuring continuous rigorous scrutiny of the science. Collectively we agreed and took decisions that will no doubt impact positively on the safety of chilled prepared foods in the UK and internationally for years to come.”

The international importance of the work is also being recognised, with the UK showing world-leading potential. Professor Martin Cole, Chief of CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) Animal, Food and Health Science: “SUSSLE is the first application to safe shelf life extension of chilled food using the risk management framework adopted internationally by CODEX Alimentarius*. The approach represents a considerable advance to the work carried in the US and could form the basis for international agreement on the shelf life of chilled foods that could be promulgated through CODEX, giving the UK a leadership position in this field.”

Kaarin Goodburn MBE, CFA Director:
We are delighted that SUSSLE has not only achieved its aims of identifying a milder thermal process than that currently recommended, assuring safety, enhancing quality and potentially reducing thermal processing energy usage, but it has been rated so highly by the PMC. Our research provides a sound scientific basis for the shelf life of chilled prepared foods with respect to non-proteolytic C. botulinum. SUSSLE is potentially a game-changer for the industry and CFA Members now have a head start on the competition by being able work on making the most of SUSSLE, benefiting consumers, the environment and industry.

We would like to thank SUSSLE’s co-funders for supporting this unique and important work.”

Further research, SUSSLE2, which aims to extend the applicability of SUSSLE’s findings, has been confirmed by the Technology Strategy Board to be funded to the tune of £534k.
Notes to Editors 

* The Codex Alimentarius Commission, established by FAO and WHO in 1963, develops harmonised international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice to protect consumers’ health and ensure fair trade practices in the food trade.

1 The £750k SUSSLE project ran from 1/12/08-31/3/12. Its findings are applicable to chilled foods all of whose components are thermally processed.

2. SUSSLE was co-funded by CFA, Defra, BBSRC and Unilever

3. Members of SUSSLE’s Expert Group included:

Dr Gary Barker, IFR
Dr Roy Betts, Campden BRI
Prof Martin Cole, CSIRO
Prof Mike Peck, IFR
Dr Peter McClure, Unilever

4. SUSSLE’s findings remain confidential to Full CFA members until 1/4/14

5. The science behind SUSSLE has been presented to the Food Standards Agency and senior technical representatives of major UK retailers

6. CFA was formed in 1989 to establish, continuously improve and promote best hygienic practice standards in the production of retailed chilled prepared food. CFA represents many of the leading names in UK chilled prepared food production, with a combined value of over £10bn, predominantly supplying the retail trade.

19 November 2012