Leatherhead Food Research opens new facility called DirtyLab

The facility is designed for pathogen challenge testing by the food industry

Dr Paul Cook (left) of the Food Standards Agency and Dr Wayne Morley (right), Head of Food Safety, Leatherhead Food Research, open Leatherhead’s pathogen pilot plant – DirtyLab Copyright: Leatherhead Food Research. Photograph taken by Andy Newbold.

Leatherhead Food Research’s new Pathogen Pilot Plant, otherwise known as DirtyLab, was officially opened this month. This new facility, with category II containment capabilities, allows the specialist food research services organisation 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.

The research organisation says DirtyLab will be used to validate the effectiveness of methods, processes and equipment against known micro-organisms.

For example, complex food production processes can be undertaken, such as 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.

DirtyLab is an important facility to have, both for Leatherhead and for Leatherhead’s Members and the food industry in general

For food itself, products can be produced and stored in controlled temperatures and humidity conditions over the product shelf life. DirtyLab also facilitates the verification of processing methods, preservatives and different packaging technologies on a pilot plant scale, which is a key area of interest for its industry members.

Dr Paul Cook of the Microbiological Food Safety Branch, Food Standards Agency, opened DirtyLab in front of more than 100 Leatherhead Members and associates on 23 May.

“DirtyLab is an important facility to have, both for Leatherhead and for Leatherhead’s Members and the food industry in general. I know from personal experience, having worked in a Food Science laboratory at a university, the challenge of doing experiments on a pilot scale from the benchtop through to full-scale production. It is important that we are able to look at how a product behaves, not only at the benchtop but also in situations that simulate what happens in real processing facilities. I think this is an exciting opportunity for Leatherhead and I wish them all the best for the future in this venture,” he said.