I work as a senior scientist and project manager at Nofima. My primary research has been linked to how microbial communities in food production and preparation environments survive, adapt and affect food safety and quality. An important question is which mechanisms bacteria use to persist, despite our efforts to eliminate them. The last ten years I have also worked in and led transdisciplinary projects linking food microbiology with consumer science, marketing and sociology.

Do you have a favorite microbe, which is it and why?

Among the bacteria I am working with, it must be Listeria. Because it appears so many places and it is still a mystery why it is so hard to get rid of it. Of all the microbes in the world, Toxoplasma fascinates me a lot. Mainly because it changes the brain of the mouse, so the mouse stops to be afraid of cats. A sort of brain manipulation actually.

How is the current situation, concerning food borne illnesses in your country?

In Norway there are very few outbreaks of food borne illnesses compared to most other countries.  This is mainly due to the fact that we do not have Salmonella in eggs and chicken. Therefore, most of the illnesses is due to contamination happened abroad and domestic cases are linked to contact with wild birds and hedgehogs. According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health between 5-7000 foodborne infections are registered yearly. However, this is probably just the top of the iceberg as only fraction of infections are actually reported.

What is your role in Safeconsume?

I have two roles in Safeconsume: Coordinator with main responsibility for scientific management and scientist.  

Safeconsume is a transdisciplinary and multiactor project and an important task is to make sure that people work together across disciplines, national borders and type of institution they belong to towards our common goal. I share the leadership of Safeconsume with the project manager, Anne Risbråthe which has the main responsibility for the financial and administrative issues.

In addition to coordinating, I work as a scientist in some of the work packages. For instance, I am with the team who visits consumers at home in their kitchen, to get ideas of smart ways to secure tasteful and safe food. The consumers are asked to make a chicken salad and in addition to watch and film their action in the kitchen, we take samples from the kitchen benches to look at how the raw materials contribute to the kitchen microbial flora. Then we analyze the samples in the lab, and we copy what the consumers do in their kitchens to see how our actions affects the bacteria.

 

What do you think will be the most important benefits/deliveries from Safeconsume?

Our mission is to make relevant European governments, organizations, companies and influencers able to and interested in giving advices and tools to consumers, so the consumers stay free of foodborne illnesses. An example is using e-learning among teenagers in Europe so they will learn how to make safe and tasty food.

What is the ambitions of your operation in the field of reducing food borne illnesses?

In Nofima we hope this comprehensive European project will help improve the food and kitchen hygiene, and that fewer consumer will get ill due to foodborne contamination. In addition, we want to strengthen our competence in food safety and consumer science and will use the results actively in future research projects with food producers and authorities.

What is your best advice to consumer on how to reduce the risks of food borne illness?

My best advice is good hand hygiene – this will reduce the risk of a lot of infections, not only the food borne. It is also important to be aware that your vulnerability to foodborne infections vary during your life time and health status.