Leatherhead's Food Safety Day, held on 23 May 2013, saw the official opening of its Pathogen Pilot Plant, otherwise known as Dirty
Lab. This new facility, with category II containment capabilities, allows Leatherhead to deliberately contaminate both conventional and new food products with pathogens in order to investigate the fate of such micro-organisms under selected processing conditions.Dirty
Lab can be used to validate the effectiveness of methods, processes and equipment against known micro-organisms. There is a huge scope for projects of different types to be undertaken within the facility. A complex food process can be undertaken, for instance the manufacture of a charcuterie product, and the manufacturing process itself can be challenged, as well as the final product. On the opposing side of food production, the cleaning and disinfection process for specific equipment can also be validated; for example, the cleaning methodology for drinks dispenser units can be assessed and evaluated. For food itself, products can be produced and stored in controlled temperatures and humidity conditions over the product shelf-life. Dirty
Lab also facilitates the verification of processing methods, preservatives and different packaging technologies on a pilot plant scale, which is a key area of Member interest.
Several confidential projects have already reaped the benefits of Leatherhead's DirtyLab. In addition, a Member-funded Forum project on pathogens in low-moisture foods, is currently being carried out in the facility; research is being undertaken to systematically establish the heat resistance and survival of pathogens in dry foods such as nuts, seeds, powder ingredients and flavours. DirtyLab is also being used to evaluate the survival of Salmonella in paprika; and Leatherhead's next study will look into the survival of salmonellae and Cronobacter sakazakii in dry infant formula.