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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Escherichia coli (more commonly known as E. coli) is one of the main species of bacteria that live in the lower intestines of mammals. This bacteria recently made headlines in the United States when about 200 people from 26 states were infected with it from fresh spinach. Although most E. coli are harmless organisms, there are many pathogenic strains which can cause a variety of illnesses in humans and animals. However, the virulence of certain pathogenic strains is reflected in a low infectious dose. In one particular outbreak, for instance, there was less than one E. coli cell per gram of contaminated salami. There is little doubt that more pathogenic groups will evolve and be recognised in the future.


Despite considerable research on E. coli, there are still areas where a fundamental understanding of these organisms is lacking. Furthermore, technical deficiencies and a lack of harmonisation across disciplines, along the food chain and between continents, have prevented optimum gain from past and ongoing research. Food-borne illnesses adversely affect competitiveness: there are the economic costs associated with lost working days, food-borne illnesses and the associated adverse publicity which may result in lost sales, lost market share and reduced profits.

The network aims to improve public health protection, coordinate research outputs and maximise collaboration between different disciplines as well as between Europe and other continents. Key issues addressed by PEN include methods of detection, molecular characterisation, epidemiology, pathogenicity, ecology, and the control and management of bacteria.


PEN forms a multidisciplinary network of international research groups working on E. coli and other potentially pathogenic strains and serotypes with the ultimate aim of reducing the burden of related illnesses. The project is developing and achieving international integrated research on the way that food is produced, processed, distributed and consumed. The data and information collated and generated underpins practical and legislative risk management at European level and beyond.

Scientists will be able to develop a sustainable, collaborative approach for enhancing and strengthening Europe's position as a centre for Food Safety Research Excellence. The network is able to complement existing knowledge in the area and focus on specific gaps not addressed by current research programmes. Specifically, these involve the development of a fundamental understanding of pathogenic E. coli. PEN can build a capacity in bacterial genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics that is sustainable beyond the life of the project, and will position the European food industry at the forefront of these exciting biotechnological developments.

Using the 'farm-to-fork' approach, PEN develops novel food safety control measures by gaining a fundamental understanding of the genomic responses to factors that may promote the emergence and survival of pathogenic E. coli.

It can provide technologies and approaches to implement full traceability of food-borne pathogens from farm to fork and from human infection to animal sources. This network can link the scientific output with European initiatives in risk management for protecting public health.

PEN is building a molecular technology platform for disseminating information and expertise on stateof- the-art molecular techniques for pathogenic E. coli isolation, identification and characterisation for microbial researchers, regulators, legislators, the food industry, and veterinary and public health experts.

List of Partners

  • Teagasc, The National Food Centre (Ireland)
  • Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association (UK)
  • Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (Germany)
  • Universidad de Santiago de Compostela (Spain)
  • Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Italy)
  • Ghent University (Belgium)
  • Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (Italy)
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Australia)
  • Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments (France)
  • E. coli O157 Reference Laboratory, Lothian Health Board, Scotland (UK)
  • The Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (The Netherlands)
  • Institut für Hygiene, Universitätsklinikum Münster (Germany)
  • Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control, Smittskydds institutet (Sweden)
  • United States Department for Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service - Eastern Regional Research Center, USDA-ARS-ERRC (United States)
  • Queen's University Belfast (UK)
  • Faculté de Médecine Vétérinaire, Université de Liège (Belgium)
  • University of Ulster at Jordanstown (UK)
  • Health Protection Surveillance Centre (Ireland)
  • Statens Serum Institut (Denmark)
  • Agricultural University of Athens (Greece)
  • University of Aberdeen (UK)
  • National Veterinary Research Institute (Poland)
  • Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France)
  • University of Adelaide (Australia)
  • Instituto de Ciencias Biomédicas (Chile)
  • The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)
  • University of Hohenheim (Germany)
  • Institute of Environmental Science and Research (New Zealand)
  • Norwegian School of Veterinary Science (Norway)
  • University of Manchester (UK)
  • Imperial College, London (UK)
  • Academisch Ziekenhuis Vrije Universiteit Brussels (Belgium)
  • Public Health Laboratory, HSE, South Western Area (Ireland)
  • Robert Koch Institute (Germany)
  • Scottish Salmonella Reference Laboratory, National Health Service (UK)
Full title:
Pathogenic escherichia coli network
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Declan Joseph Bolton, Teagasc, The National Food Centre,
EC Scientific Officer:
Jean-Charles Cavitte,
EU contribution:
€ 810,657
Coordination Action

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top