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International Stakeholder Workshop on Best Practice for the Control of Human Pathogenic Microorganisms in Plant Production Systems

International Stakeholder Workshop on Best Practice for the Control of Human Pathogenic Microorganisms in Plant Production Systems

A new report on Best Practice for the Control of Human Pathogenic Microorganisms in Plant Production Systems was published recently by the HUPLANTcontrol COST action; Control of Human Pathogenic Microorganisms in Plant Production Systems, with the report publication coordinated by Teagasc

The report emanates from a workshop that was organised by HUPLANTcontrol and brought together international researchers, regulators, growers and other stakeholders focused on examining best practice for the control of human pathogenic microorganisms in plant production systems.

The workshop was hosted by Teagasc at the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Dublin. The aim of the workshop was to bring together relevant stakeholders to examine biological hazards and control strategies in plant production systems in order to ensure the microbiological safety of horticultural products. A multidisciplinary group of international scientific experts, including researchers in food microbiology, plant microbiology, soil microbiology, microbial ecology, agricultural production, horticulture, microbial pathogenicity and virulence, risk assessment and food safety management participated in the workshop.

One of the authors of the report, Dr Fiona Brennan, Soil Microbiologist with Teagasc said; “The positive effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on human health and the gut microbiome have been long recognised. Substantial improvements in our understanding of the plant microbiome in recent years have been brought about by technological advances in microbiology, which has enhanced our capacity to examine microbial communities on plants, including the occasional occurrence of human pathogens.”

Dr Kaye Burgess, Teagasc Food Safety Department said; “There is an increased emphasis on and observance of food-borne diseases associated with fresh produce, due in part to changes in the processing, agronomy and distribution of fresh produce, but also in the increasing trend for the consumption of minimally processed and raw, ready-to-eat crops.”

Dr Michael Gaffney from the Teagasc Horticultural Development Department, said; “The workshop assessed the current European situation in relation to the safety of horticultural produce under three themes; protecting fresh produce from microbial pathogens; control strategies and sampling; and risk assessment and risk based sampling. The report details the discussions and observations which emanated from that meeting, including a list of recommendations, aimed at growers, regulators, advisors and scientists.”

Recommendations for growers

For growers recommendations include:

  • reinforcement through clear communication on the need to prevent initial contamination of produce through the adoption of good microbiological safety practice
  • utilising on farm risk assessments and
  • a focus on avoidance of initial contamination rather than a reliance on decontamination efforts.

This can be achieved through approaches such as the adoption and incorporation of good agricultural practice and good hygiene into standard operating procedures on farm.

Recommendations to regulators and advisors

Recommendations to regulators and advisors include:

  • balancing communication messages to growers
  • indicating what is required of them, but also equally, clearly explaining why it is necessary.

Additionally it was felt that additional supports and materials would be beneficial to growers in some countries, particularly smaller growers, to assist in the training of staff on the importance of biological safety practice, particularly in sectors where staff turnover may be high and differences in native languages spoken.

Recommendations to scientists

Finally, recommendations to scientists include:

  • a greater emphasis on knowledge transfer and also,
  • where possible, to focus knowledge transfer efforts into developing clear recommendations which growers can implement.

The interaction between the plant microbiome, potential pathogens, environmental conditions and agricultural practices requires a greater level of attention and research to aid in predicting the risk of human pathogen establishment in plant production systems.


Overall it was recognised that increased interaction and information exchange between stakeholders will enable better understanding of the issues and opportunities faced by the horticultural sector in Europe and the co-creation of advice through participation of all stakeholders can increase the opportunity to mitigate food safety risks from horticultural produce.

View the report titled ‘International Stakeholder Workshop on Best Practice for the Control of Human Pathogenic Microorganisms in Plant Production Systems, Dublin 2019’ here

Find out more about HUPLANTcontrol here. Find out more about Teagasc Food Research and Innovation here