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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



In recent years, the possibility of epidemics caused by food has been brought to the attention of the European consumer. Measures to prevent the occurrence of such epidemics are currently being taken.

The most serious consumer food scares in the last ten years have been attributed to contaminated feeds finding their way into foods of animal origin. European consumers would benefit from harmonised food and feed chain traceability systems that offer greater protection from food poisoning by dangerous agents and substances. To this end, the SIGMA CHAIN (SCHAIN) project is developing systems that will counteract chain vulnerability to contamination.


In order to reduce contamination risks in the chain, the systems developed must be able to link products to their source, identify dangerous agents and substances, counteract fraud and malicious contamination of the chain and ensure that proper processing has taken place (e.g. sufficient sterilisation temperature and time). There is a clear emphasis on full chain traceability from food to farm, both for foods and for drinking water.

SCHAIN aims to increase consumer confidence in the food supply chain. The project addresses food chain integrity by mapping product chains. It uses state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques, identification technologies and risk assessment to comprehensively map chains, with contamination risks identified for each link in the chain. Traceability systems are being evaluated, including current methodologies for the identification of contaminants. Such contaminants may be of chemical or biological origin, and may be added naturally, inadvertently or maliciously.

As chain vulnerability to contamination varies for each product type, studies are being conducted on four highly vulnerable products, representing three major chain categories. The products are: drinking water (i.e. a rapid contamination chain); milk powder (i.e. a batch mixing chain); and both poultry meat and farmed salmon (i.e. long geographic chains). A model is being developed to provide quantitative risk assessments of chain vulnerability. A generic framework is being set up for prioritising risks, which will be validated using the four case studies. The results are to be presented in a guide that will be of relevance to all food chain stakeholders. It will address consumers' needs and enable legislative and regulatory authorities to protect consumers' interests.


The Stakeholders' Guide is to be in book format. It is supported by software that enables the stakeholder to input specific chain data for a product in order to produce associated chain maps and assessments of contamination risk. In the case of a food chain contamination incident, chain mapping and risk ranking systems allow for a targeted and accurate withdrawal of contaminated products and a rapid dissemination of information to the public. In summary, robust and effective food chain mapping and risk ranking systems provide a means to increase the transparency of the supply chain, minimise the risk of contamination and help increase consumer confidence.

Overall, SCHAIN facilitates the regulation of the food-to-farm chain. The project also enables the development of a pan-European system that can inform all stakeholders about the safety and integrity of their food chains (e.g. the quality, origin and mode of production of the food). In particular, SCHAIN provides stakeholders with methodologies to counteract chain vulnerability to contamination.

So, what's in a book? The English jurist Henry of Bracton would probably answer: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".

List of Partners

  • University College Dublin (Ireland)
  • Bundesforschungsanstalt für Ernährung und Lebensmittel (Germany)
  • TNO Quality of Life (The Netherlands)
  • Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France)
  • Agricultural University of Poznan (Poland)
  • AgriTech Solutions (Ireland)
  • SINTEF Fiskeri og Havbruk (Norway)
  • IFQC (Ireland)
  • Instituto de Tecnologia de Alimentos (Brazil)
  • Wageningen University (The Netherlands)
  • Syncom (Germany)
Full title:
Developing a stakeholders' guide on the vulnerability of food and feed chains to dangerous agents and substances
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Fergal Tansey, University College Dublin,
EC Scientific Officer:
Judit Krommer,
EU contribution:
€ 2.9M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top