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Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

We collated popular questions which learners asked on previous versions of this course and provided some answers below on the topics covered in Week 2. Please share any further questions in the comments section. Your fellow learners will have their own views and may well be able to point you in the direction of further information.

How can I access original / primary research? Much of it is behind paywalls and the advice based on research can change rapidly as the research moves on. How can I “go beyond” the headlines to understand the science? 
If there is a specific piece of research you are interested in, the authors or the organisation they work in may make their research available through their own websites, or a summary news piece could be available. You could try searching for the authors or article title. 
Many journals now make some research papers Open Access (freely available to all), in some instances this may be a condition of receiving funding. You may also find some scientific journals are completely open access – free to all. For published papers, although the paper may not be available in full, the abstract or summary is usually freely available, which will summarise many of the main findings from a piece of research. 
Government agencies, organisations such as the European Commission, FAO and WHO publish their own reports, research and reviews of the research, which is often freely available. 
Are there groups and organisations you know to be involved in research into sustainability, the food chain, agriculture? Do they have social media accounts – Twitter, Facebook? You could follow them to get updates. 
The course Food and Nutrition: The Truth Behind Food Headlines from EIT food might also be of interest.
Why are specific types of packaging used? 
The packing will often depend on the nature of the food item, fresh fruit and vegetables may need packaging to reduce bruising and damage between farm and shops. Producers, growers and sellers may look at a combination of the cost and environmental benefits of packaging combined with the cost of lost produce due to damage or spoiling. There are a wide range of aspects that need to be considered when packaging such as: 
  • Preservation – for example modified atmosphere packaging, where the air in a packet is replaced with a gas or gas mixture to preserve the food, will require air-tight packaging  
  • Damage to packaging – some food items (for example vinegar) can corrode some types of packaging, freezing can damage some plastics 
  • Taste – ensuring flavours don’t pass from packaging to food item  
  • Efficiency – such as wine shipped globally from Australia in large containers and then bottled in the country of consumption for sale. Shipping in large containers and then bottling the wine in heavy, more difficult to transport containers closer to the point of sale can reduce the space and fuel needed for transport. 
Changes in technology could also impact on the types of packaging used. The Smart Tags project looked at using visible colour changes in 2D barcodes on food products to indicate if, for example, storage conditions for a food product had been too warm or humid. 
What about food safety throughout the whole food chain? Not just that food is safe for consumers to eat but is, for example, safe for growers to grow, not causing harm to those working in factories, safe packaging that doesn’t injure, safe conditions for retailers. 
You might consider some aspects of certification, for example food certified as organic within the EU will have to conform to various regulations around growing / producing which can mean changes in the pesticides and fertilizers used. Week 4 of the course will consider some aspects of organic farming, and you can find out more about organic certification in the EU at Organics at a glance. 
In Week 4 we will also be looking at sustainable and ethical food production which could help you think about safety for growers and producers. Schemes such as the Fairtrade certification scheme could help you to consider food safety across the food supply chain.  We will also look at the Ethical Matrix, which considers making ethical decisions in relation to changes in food and farming, one aspect of which is the health and wellbeing of people working in the food industry. 
In terms of safety for workers and retailers, the following links could give you a starting point in thinking about workers rights, which could include safety and security at work:  
What is the bactericide used when washing salad leaves for bagged salads? 

Sodium hypochlorite is often used as a bactericide. Sodium hypochlorite is a constituent of some household cleaners and a very dilute solution, designed specifically for use on food, is used to clean and kill bacteria on salad leaves. 

This paper ‘The Bactericidal Effect of a Combination of Food-Grade Compounds and their Application as Alternative Antibacterial Agents for Food Contact Surfaces’ ( explores some alternatives.

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Trust in Our Food: Understanding Food Supply Systems

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