Four Ways Research Is Driving Breakthroughs in Protecting the Global Food Supply Chain


David Crean

Vice President, Corporate Research & Development, Chief Science Officer, Mars, Incorporated

Dave Crean at GFSC

The significant threat of foodborne illness affects nearly every industry from agriculture to retail and challenges government and healthcare. As a global food company, at Mars we care passionately about our contribution in this space.

Excitingly, we recently published the first research study from the IBM-Mars Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain.

IBM-Mars consortium

The study, published in the peer-reviewed Nature Partner Journal Science of Food, is the first in a series of publications from the consortium which was established in 2015 by IBM and Mars to help drive innovation in genomics and food and agriculture to enable critical breakthroughs in food safety.

In this proof of concept study, the team hypothesized that a specific DNA sequencing method would offer accurate authentication of non-targeted (or full exploration of) ingredients and detection of contaminants. A bioinformatics pipeline was developed, and initial results suggest this could be a sensitive, accurate and novel way to determine and validate the composition of foods. Really exciting stuff!

Why should we care?

This work, together with future publications from the consortium, has the potential to transform how the food industry and regulators scrutinize for food safety risks; it will also help strengthen risk management capabilities in food safety. It’s very much in line with our goal of strengthening the food supply chain and helping ensure safe food for all.

What else has the team been doing?

It’s been a busy few months! I couldn’t be prouder of our Mars researchers who, together with our many research partners and collaborators around the world are doing all they can to generate new insights and share knowledge to help ensure safe food. Here is just a snapshot:

1.       Scientists from our Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in Beijing, working together with scientists from world leading institutions, have presented new food safety research on mycotoxin risk management, microbial risk management (including our work in the consortium) and food authenticity at numerous leading conferences around the world, sharing scientific posters and insights at numerous  talks and panels including the International Association for Food Protection, the World Mycotoxin Forum and China International Food Safety and Quality Conference as well as with United Nations food agencies

2.      We’ve trained more than 200 people in food safety management and published multiple peer-reviewed papers. Two great examples for me are Assessment and Comparison of Molecular Subtyping and Characterization Methods for Salmonella and Introducing the Food Fraud Prevention Cycle: A dynamic information management and strategic roadmap, and there are several under review that we’re looking forward to sharing in 2020

3.      Through internships at the GFSC and across the business we’ve been supporters of the next generation of food scientists. Dr. Cui Wang from the GFSC team shared her thoughts on life as a mum in science and the importance of work life balance earlier this year in a blog with Scientific American.

4.     Our very own head of research, Dr. Guangtao Zhang talked about his experience as a food safety scientist and the key areas of focus at the GFSC recently with the excellent My Food Job Rocks editor Adam Yee as well. Well worth a listen!

One of the themes I hear and indeed feel at the moment is how challenging the world appears, whether politically, or with issues such as climate change. It’s all too easy to feel a bit overwhelmed and indeed despondent about the challenges we face and the difficulties in making meaningful progress. However, science in my view is inherently optimistic and gives us the opportunity to develop the solutions we need. These small steps in the application of genomics and other food safety areas point to the possibilities ahead. Reasons to be cheerful!!! 

This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn, you can read more from Dave here

Dave Crean at GFSC