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Computomics part of CoLab Tech 2023 @ Mondelēz International

Computomics part of CoLab Tech 2023 @ Mondelēz International

Mondelēz International, the snack producer of brands like Milka, Daim, but also Philadelphia Cheese, accepted 9 participants altogether for its inaugural CoLab Tech 2023 class. CoLab Tech is a start-up engagement program focused on accelerating companies that address key R&D topics and priority areas for Mondelēz International. The 9 participants selected represent alternative ingredient, food safety, improved manufacturing and regenerative agriculture technologies.

Computomics was delighted to be an elected participant of the CoLab Tech 2023. At Mondelēz International’s North America headquarter in East Hanover, NJ, we discussed Metagenomics monitoring solutions for advanced food biosafety and quality assurance measures. The applicability of this concept is particularly relevant in the food production and supply chain. The concept spans agriculture (soil/plant), the manufacturing of raw materials, intermediate and final products, and transportation and storage in supermarkets, making it a challenging and hot topic.

Foodborne illnesses numerous and varied

According to the 2022 WHO fact sheet, every year 1 in 10 people falls ill due to contaminated food, and 420,000 people die from foodborne diseases. These diseases result from microbial or chemical infections. Microbial pathogens relevant to foodborne illnesses are associated with bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli, Listeria, or Vibrio cholerae. Similarly, viruses like Norovirus or Hepatitis A, as well as parasites including tapeworms, Ascaris, or Giardia, are known to be transmitted through food, among others.

Assessment for microbial hazard sources crucial

Considering the risks of foodborne diseases, the assessment for microbial hazard sources is essential. The aim is to reduce the enormous amount of illnesses, including those affecting children under 5 years, along with associated treatment costs, and, not least, production losses. 

Unfortunately, "Zero Risk does not exist”, as well described by Zwietering et al. 2021. This becomes apparent when recent and past food-borne hazard outbreaks are examined. Even if only 1 salmonella cell (CFU) occurs in 10,000 of products, with a risk of getting ill per service of approximating 0, you might have 9 cases of salmonellosis per year (depending on the production size) and up to 25 cases per month when considering servings as well. Often such cases are underreported, not genotyped, and sampling protocols differ, which makes identification and source tracking difficult. However, if single cases could be clustered temporally, geographically, or genetically, they could quickly be identified as a hazard outbreak.

Metagenomics analyses for monitoring pathogens in real time 

Computomics offers Metagenomics analyses to monitor different types of pathogens in real time, from the early soil stages to manufacturing facilities. Our Metagenomics web platform MORPHEUS and desktop software MEGAN are capable of handling microbial sequencing data from various environments, and production lines over time, to facilitate pathogen identification. MORPHEUS furthermore supports backtracking to identify potential hazard-causing entry points. 

Besides taxonomic identification, our tool correlates with functional information of the food microbiome, providing the opportunity not only to detect shifts in microbial communities but also to identify alterations in microbial functions (e.g. enzymes, metabolic pathways) in response to pathogen surveillance or undesired chemical by-products. Another advantage of our technology is its ability to integrate metagenomics with chemical analysis results and to apply machine learning techniques, which extend the limits of current data interpretation.

Collaborative approach and outlook

During our three-month journey together with Mondelēz International as well as our partners Lab Automation Network (LAN) and Hahn-Schickard, our Metagenomics experts Sascha Patz and Michelle Hagen developed an approach on how to integrate chemical and microbial analysis into a unified workflow applicable to the customer's sampling protocol. We also addressed challenges posed by different isolation procedures stemming from diverse food sources. 

We would like to express our gratitude to Mondelez for providing us with the opportunity to present and discuss our approach to their food authorities on the final date. We are excited to see what the upcoming months hold for our continued collaboration.

Michelle Hagen and Sascha Patz at CoLab Tech 2023


More about Computomics' related projects and solutions:

SAFFI project - Infant food safety
NanoSPoD project - advanced plant virus detection using magnetic beads


Please feel free to contact Sascha Patz directly for our Metagenomics projects and solutions.

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