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Digital Technologies for Food Safety Decision Support (FoodDecide)


Funding programme / funding institution: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung

Grant number: 01DS21013A

Project homepage: -

Project description:

The aim of the research project is to develop software solutions for data-driven decision-making in Montenegrin food companies and government agencies, which on the one hand increase food safety and on the other hand accelerate investigations in case of a foodborne disease outbreak. The new software tools to be developed will also be available as open source software to German or European stakeholders. To this end, the project builds on research conducted by the BfR and the KLU, which have already developed initial open source software solutions as well as algorithms and models of food supply chains. In the FoodDecide project, the German project partners BfR and KLU together with the Montenegrin partner University of Donja Gorica (UDG) can further develop the already existing software technologies, algorithms and information exchange concepts in such a way that they are adapted to Montenegrin needs and can be tested in Montenegrin practice. In this way, the FoodDecide project also supports the existing open-source software projects such as PMM-Lab and FSK-Lab. In addition, efficient data exchange protocols will be established, if needed, to allow a connection between existing IT or laboratory systems and the new user-friendly decision support software tools to be developed. Exploitation of the results.

The digital innovations generated (software tools, algorithms) form the basis for a possible spin-off of an IT start-up from the UDG Centre of Excellence "Food Hub". In a first step, such a spin-off would address Montenegrin food entrepreneurs and government agencies as customers. In a second phase, however, the developed software solutions could also be marketed to German or European stakeholders (especially trading companies and food producers), for whom the successful piloting in Montenegro would serve as an important proof of concept. In addition, BfR could integrate part of the solutions into its portfolio of open-source software resources and support long-term maintenance and development. The PhD students and research assistants employed in the project will publish their scientific research results as "gold" open-access articles in peer-reviewed journals.

The agriculture and food sector is one of the three most important sectors of the Montenegrin economy and contributes with a significant share to the gross domestic product (8% in 2018). The full implementation of European food safety legislation has not yet been completed in Montenegro. The current Montenegrin legal framework stipulates that Montenegrin scientific research institutions should conduct risk assessments and develop the necessary tools to investigate outbreaks in the food production chain (see Article 11 of the Montenegrin Law on Food Safety). However, so far there have been no activities in this area due to a lack of appropriate capacity, knowledge and networking. This leads to a partial dysfunction of the food safety system due to the lack of science-based support needed to protect public health. In November 2019, Montenegro submitted to the EC the new national strategy for "Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary protection" together with the planning of the corresponding administrative and financial capacities. It is planned to establish fully EU-compliant food safety systems over the next five years, including laying the foundations for an efficient foodborne outbreak detection system and food safety risk assessment methods in the country. In addition, functional food safety systems are important as the national food and agriculture sector is closely linked to the Montenegrin tourism sector, which contributes even more to the gross domestic product (23% in 2018). Food safety is also of high importance for Germany. Several major foodborne disease outbreaks, such as the EHEC outbreak in 2011 or the norovirus outbreak in 2012, provide evidence of this. There are also numerous small outbreaks in Germany every year, e.g. in 2018 alone there were 416 foodborne disease outbreaks with at least 2476 people sickened and 11 deaths.

The establishment of an international cooperation between BfR, KLU and UDG is of common interest and creates a real "win-win" situation for all project partners. For the Montenegrin partner UDG, this cooperation offers the opportunity to benefit from existing software and algorithmic knowledge that has been built up at BfR and KLU over the last ten years. In addition, the cooperation supports the training and further education of staff and university graduates who will be able to shape and develop the UDG FoodHub Centre of Excellence in the long term. For the German project partners, the cooperation with the UDG offers the unique opportunity to apply and improve their own innovative algorithms and software tools to real data provided by the Montenegrin food entrepreneurs involved through the UDG. The German partners also benefit from the interdisciplinary team of the UDG, which can provide valuable contributions to software development and system design, as well as from expert knowledge in the fields of food quality, food technology and nutrition science. As the BfR's experience from previous research projects has shown, it is imperative to involve an interdisciplinary team, especially for the development of software for decision support in the context of food safety and outbreak detection, for which this project provides ideal framework conditions. It is also the declared goal of the UDG Centre of Excellence to advocate for the promotion of national start-up and spin-off activities, so that the potential of the software solutions developed in the project can be used in Montenegrin food production and tourism.

The proposed international cooperation will therefore contribute to the further integration of UDG (and its partners) into the European Research Area (ERA) and thus to the prevention of a continued brain drain from Montenegro. With the acquired know-how, the UDG will also gain new opportunities to actively participate in upcoming European R&D project consortia.

This project builds on extensive research by BfR and KLU in the field of foodborne outbreaks, mathematical modelling and software development. The key question for this project is: "How can food business operators or government agencies efficiently identify a contaminated food product or food batch causing a disease outbreak using data on their own or macro supply chains?" Even with the inclusion of recent research, there are still some research questions that need to be addressed. These research results can then be integrated into the development of prototype decision support software tools that can be tested by end users and later commercialised.

Under the leadership of KLU, BfR will contribute to improving the predictive accuracy of available data mining algorithms that identify "contaminated" food categories at an early stage of a foodborne disease outbreak investigation. Here, national macro-economic models of supply chains will be used and compared with the observed spatial distribution pattern of case reports. The planned research also addresses optimising the efficiency and scalability of computing resources. The project partner UDG, with support from BfR, will investigate how food business operators can use their own food logistics and laboratory data to conduct their own assessments and support their own and governmental decision-making. The availability of such logistics and laboratory data from UDG's established collaborative network linking food entrepreneurs and government agencies is a unique opportunity for this type of research. The research work of KLU and BfR also addresses the question of how noisy or missing supply chain data can be used or compensated for through the use of innovative data analysis technologies. Finally, a significant part of the available resources of the UDG and the BfR is devoted to the development of intuitive, user-friendly decision support software that hides the computational and algorithmic complexity from end users and instead enables intuitive visualisations of food networks.

Such solutions are particularly helpful in assisting end users to make decisions based on secure data in crisis situations. The BfR also coordinates the project, organises project-related communication activities (incl. involvement of the project advisory board) and leads the development of the required data standards and the knowledge database.

Project partners

  • University of Donja Gorica




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