PROTECT Communication, Education and Outreach Activities at Primary and Secondary Schools in India – Gopi Talari and Rhea Chhaya

As part of the PROTECT Communication, Education and Outreach program, all the Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) are expected to engage in Communication, Education and Outreach activities. These outreach activities are meant to address key challenges of “climate change” and bring social awareness to the general public, especially in school children.

We, ESRs Gopi Talari and Rhea Chhaya decided to conduct two outreach activities in India during our annual leave at two schools, one at a primary school (3rd grade to 7th grade: aged 9 to 13 years) and another at a secondary school (8th to 10th grade: aged 14 to 16 years). Both took place in the Southern part of India, Laxmipuram village, East Godavari district, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. 

We planned to give a research presentation followed by some fun activities to have a better understanding of how impactful our talk was and the general awareness of the students. As the school children are from non-English backgrounds, talks were given in the regional state language, “Telugu”. The majority of the students were interested in expressing their thoughts in drawing and some in writing. So, we conducted a drawing and essay writing competition on the topic of “Causes of Climate Change and its Impact on the Environment”. 

The day before the event, ESR Gopi visited the schools and got approval to conduct the event in the afternoon session. Drawing and essay writing topics were given to the students and a motivational speech to encourage participation in the competition.

On the day of the event at each school, all the students from the school participated in drawing and essay competitions. Followed by a research presentation by both the ESRs, Rhea gave a talk on “Climate Change Impacts on Food Safety” and thanked the participants for taking part in the day’s activities via Zoom and Gopi translated it for the primary school kids. The children were extremely engaged and wrote very well by addressing the challenges and their role as students to combat this climate change issue. They also drew amazing drawings. One particular stand out was a very talented girl from the 4th standard who had a vocal and hearing impairment who expressed her views with wonderful drawings. Three of the best were selected from each school for both competitions and awarded prizes. It was hard to select the winners among all the students as everyone did exceedingly well. We gave consolation prizes to encourage participation along with appreciation certificates. The district education officer visited the school and appreciated the event, it was a great success with the help of the school’s headmasters, administration and parents’ support. 

The Outreach activities got picked up by the Andhra Pradesh state local newspaper. 

Transiting to a “net-zero carbon” dairy sector: Climate change challenges – Maro Malliaroudaki

Did you know that a bottle of one kilogram of milk produced under conventional dairy production systems emits about 2 kilogram of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions through its life cycle from “farm-to-fork”? If you think again 2 kg of carbon dioxide, weighs twice as much as the actual weight of the product!

But why are carbon emissions detrimental? Planet earth is undergoing climatic changes that will continue to be in effect at an increasing rate. Even if these changes do not seriously affect our own lives, they will certainly affect next generations. Carbon and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are forming a layer in the earths’ atmosphere and trapping the heat from the sun, the so-called greenhouse phenomenon. Global warming is a physical phenomenon that is intensified by the greenhouse phenomenon. This means limiting emissions cannot stop global warming but can slow it down. As a result, the less GHG emissions humanity causes, the less detrimental the impact of global warming will be.

For daily fastmoving consumer goods, including dairy products, price is usually the principal purchasing criterion. But what if people started purchasing products based on how environmentally sustainable they are?

Consumers have the power to transform the dairy industry, and every other goods sector, by shifting their consumption behaviour towards the most sustainable choice they can afford. This will inevitably lead to a new form of competition between the companies. Companies, rather than solely focusing on generating profit, will shift their production towards satisfying the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. In that way environmental sustainability will become the new norm of competency among the world company networks.

As regards global warming, the Paris Agreement in 2015 affirmed between 196 parties around the world, established that all sectors will have to reach the net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050-2070 to limit global warming well below 2 °C and towards 1.5 °C. All party members of the Paris Agreement will have to set their own governmental regulations to enforce companies and citizens to move towards net-zero carbon.

But how easy will it be for the dairy sector to accomplish the net-zero carbon target? The mission towards creating a net-zero dairy sector is a great challenge. This sector is responsible for a significant release of carbon emissions, representing about 3% of total emissions by human activities. These emissions are mainly caused by bovines’ enteric fermentation and energy use. However, for the dairy industry, the mitigation potential for achieving the net-zero carbon target is a great challenge because of the inability to control the methane emission from bovine enteric fermentation. Thus, a well thought carbon mitigation plan will need to be put into action in order to meet the net-zero carbon target. This plan will target the limitation of the carbon emissions resulting from energy use by improving the energy efficiency and by switching to greener fuels, the minimisation of waste along the dairy chain, and the application of waste valorisation technologies to produce bioenergy and other useful dairy by-products from waste streams.

The dairy sector not only has to take net-zero carbon actions but also address some critical upcoming future challenges. It will have to respond to the expected increase in food demand due to global population growth. A broad estimate for the increase in food demand is a 70% rise compared to the food demand levels in 2005. Climate change is affecting the dairy sector mainly in three ways: First, the expected warmer climates will affect the crop yield, reducing available animal feed. Secondly, rising temperatures can cause heat stress to cows leading to decreased milk production and increased mortality risk. Finally, food safety concerns escalate since pathogens in milk may develop heat resistance. In such a scenario, more intensive pasteurisation methods may be required, and lower refrigeration temperature will be needed for ensuring that products will be safe for consumption. These climate change effects will cause serious uncertainty to the dairy industry if adaptation actions are not taken.

All the above-mentioned challenges can lead to a huge rise in energy demand for the dairy sector which will make the “net-zero carbon” goal even more challenging. Specifically, a net-zero carbon mitigation strategy should be coupled with climate change adaptation actions. The industries and companies of the dairy sector that acknowledge their social and environmental responsibility and start taking “net-zero carbon” actions from an early stage, can significantly reduce the downside risks associated with climate change adaptation. Most importantly, companies should make their sustainable dairy products affordable enough to be accessible to the general public. During this process, it is up to consumers to realise the power of their purchasing preferences, to move the dairy industry to a more sustainable future.

Communication activities finally resume in person! – Styliani (Stella) Roufou

In the past year, there was a big change in our lives. Regular face-to-face work, short chats and meetings have been replaced by virtual events and remote work. Fortunately, it has been a few months since some sense of normality has resumed in Malta. We returned to our workspace and our meetings, always concerned about the restrictions. While the face to face activities began to increase, I received some emails about outdoor communication activities, which could help us spread our knowledge and passion.

Link to Stella’s HerStory Makers video:

The first email came three months ago with two different communication activities. The first activity, called HERstory Makers 2021, is about inspiring the next generation and giving outstanding female-identifying role models a stage to thrive on. There is no gender within the research! Eight female early-career researchers, including myself, had 2 minutes to pitch our research and ourselves in a video. The videos were presented at different Scottish primary schools and on social media. Furthermore, there was a European competition in which people had to vote for the best European-inspired video. 

In addition, the second activity was Science in the City 2021, intending to attract people through science and the arts, educate, inspire creativity and passion for knowledge for people of all ages across the country. In this event, I participated in a game called The Game of Talents, and the audience had to guess my field. Later, I presented my research to them and replied to their questions.

My final communication activity is an interview that I had for a Maltese magazine called THINK. It was my pleasure to meet the guys from the magazine and have this interesting talk; the final article came out very nice!

In conclusion, after one year of postponing our secondments or doing them virtually, we can now have them in person. Lydia travelled to Malta, and we collaborated in the lab. Now, it is my time to move to Belgium, explore the new country and interact with other researchers. I am looking forward to new experiences and knowledge transfer!

Stella Roufou and Lydia Katsini together in Malta!

PROTECT ITN Virtual Workshop 2 in the era of COVID-19 – Gopi Talari

The objective of PROTECT ITN was to train a new generation of creative, entrepreneurial and innovative ‘Early-Stage Researchers’ (ESRs) in food safety and microbial risk assessment concerning climate change. I am glad to be one of the members of a team of 8 ESR’s in the ITN project. All of us are midway through our PhDs amidst the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. There is an increasing need for a rapid and widespread vaccination essential to help contain the further spread of the deadly virus. Across the world, new norms such as physical distancing, wearing masks and frequent hand-washing have emerged. These measures have proven fool proof in combating the pandemic. As a result, unlike the previous hybrid workshop 1, which was held partly on-site and mostly online, workshop 2 was held completely virtual via zoom meeting. This workshop 2, entitled as food chain environmental sustainability, went for two days virtually. Participants were limited to 24 with the ESRs and supervisors from PROTECT, including a few more participants from the partner institutes.

Project manager, Eleanor, distributed the schedule two weeks prior to the workshop. All participants were advised to complete the e-learning courses before the day one workshop. Free e-learning courses were provided to address life cycle thinking and approaches from different perspectives and on various levels. The course material was well designed in the form of short videos and materials to give a glimpse of life cycle thinking from the perspective of business decision-making and policy-making.

On day one of the workshop, Professor Enda Cummins introduced himself and the workshop’s agenda, followed by a welcome presentation by Professor Almudena Hospido, the workshop coordinator. The morning session consisted of life cycle initiatives, environmental sustainability and LCA on the food sector. Unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic barred us from visiting Santiago in person. The first day ended with a social activity, the Pilgrim Way ‘Camiño de Santiago’, a local guide arranged a virtual tour via videos, pictures and it was delightfully remarkable. The virtual tour guide seemed to possess an immense knowledge of the cathedrals. It was marvellous, and we all missed not being present there in person. I definitely wish to visit Santiago when the days are back to normal.

Day two of the workshop consisted of lectures and an interactive session on the environmental sustainability of dairy farms. Before the lunch break, an interesting open session was conducted on how sustainability is managed. Here we formed groups and discussed environmentally sustainable products in food safety, especially the dairy industry. In my team, ESR Rhea came up with a packaging material in the dairy sector, examined it, and gathered relevant information. Finally, all the groups presented their ideas in a short presentation from a consumer awareness perspective.

In the afternoon, another interesting and my favourite session on data mining from KU Leuven took place. Most of the ESRs are interested in applying data mining to their projects and had numerous queries during the sessions. Despite being virtual, the session was engaging and everyone got the chance to ask questions smoothly without any technical interceptions. Overall, the virtual zoom setup of the PROTECT workshop 2 sessions went superb given the current COVID situation. However, still, we dearly miss conference venues, socialising with colleagues and the presenters. As the vaccination rolls out across the world, we are optimistic and hopeful to see life getting back to normal.

PROTECT Workshop 2

Theme: Food Chain Environmental Sustainability

Hosts: University Santiago de Compostela (USC) & University of Nottingham (UoN) via Zoom

Registration Form: (Zoom links will be provided upon successful registration and available spaces)

Please Note: Times are in Spanish Standard Time CEST (-1 HR BST/IST)

Day 0 – Individual activity to be carried out between May 17th – 30th

Introductory courses: These free e-learning courses address life cycle thinking and approaches from different perspectives and in various levels of depth: E-learning courses – Life Cycle Initiative
 1.     Introduction to Life Cycle Thinking – COMPULSORY (the certificate dispatched at the end of the course will be used as evidence of its accomplishment) 
 2.     Life Cycle Thinking in business decision making – VOLUNTARY, BUT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
 3.     Life Cycle Thinking in policy making – VOLUNTARY, BUT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Further supplementary information:
 Video related to the dairy sector:
 University of Nottingham Centre for Dairy Science Innovation – 2 min introduction
 Lindhurst Engineering H2AD technology – 3.5 min introduction 

Day 1 – 31st May 2021: 9:15 am – 5:30 pm

9:15 am: Registration
9:30 am: Introduction Prof. Enda Cummins (UCD)
9:35 am: Welcome and presentation of the workshop – Prof. Almudena Hospido (USC)
9:40 am: Invited Speaker –  Llorenç Milà i Canals | UNEP - UN Environment Programme 
 ·      Provisional title: The Life Cycle Initiative – bringing Life Cycle Thinking into the global sustainable development agenda (30 minutes talk + 10 minutes questions)
10:20 am: Invited Speaker – Pierre-Marie Aubert | IDDRI
 ·       Provisional title: EU food value chains and the Farm to Fork strategy (30 minutes talk + 10 minutes questions)
11:00 – 11:30 am: BREAK
11:30 am – 1:00 pm: Food chain environmental sustainability and its evaluation 
 ·       Prof. Rachel Gomes (UoN):  Environmental sustainability and the food chain - Drivers, impacts and opportunities (30 minutes)
 ·       Prof. Almudena Hospido (USC): LCA on food sector – Product perspective (30 minutes)
 ·       Ass. Prof. Sara González-García (USC): LCA on food sector – Diet perspective (30 minutes)
 ·       Q&A section (30 minutes) 
1:00 – 2:00 pm: LUNCH BREAK 
2:00 – 4:00 pm: How sustainability is managed by … 
 ·       … CLUN: Ana González (30 minutes) 
 ·       … ARLA FOODS: Dr. Anna Flysjö (30 minutes)
 ·       … NIZO: Dr. Luanga Nchari (30 minutes)
 ·       Open discussion moderated by Ass. Prof. Becca Ferrari (UoN) (30 minutes)
4:00 – 4:30 pm: Take home message from the day – Prof. Rachel Gomes (UoN)
4:30 – 5:30 pm: Social activity – The pilgrim way “Camiño de Santiago” exploring the concepts more and less known, by means of a presentation that combines videos, maps and live explanations. 

Day 2 – 1st June 2021: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm

9:30 – 11.15 am: Exploring environmental sustainability on the dairy farm (led by Dr Oliver Fisher (UoN / Lindhurst Engineering) and Prof. Rachel Gomes (UoN))
 ·       Overview of dairy farming: sustainable resources and a global perspective
 ·       Developing technologies for dairy farm resource sustainability – H2AD case study
 ·       Interactive session and discussion
 ·       Thinking about R&D to practice and policy
11:15 – 11:30 am (tentative): BREAK 
11:30 am – 1:00 pm: Interactive session on Day 0 with focus on exploring environmental sustainability on the dairy sector … going beyond the dairy farm –(led by Prof. Almudena Hospido (USC) and Ass. Prof. Miguel Mauricio (USC))
1:00 – 1:45 pm: LUNCH BREAK 
1:45 – 4:45 pm: Session on Data Mining – Prof Jan van Impe (KU Leuven) 
4:45 – 5:00 pm: Goodbye Picture & Closing Remarks (all) 

PROTECT “Summer” School 2 – Lydia Katsini

After coming back from the Christmas holidays, the ESRs participated in the first training event of the year, PROTECT “Summer” School 2. The 4-day event was hosted by KU Leuven/BioTeC+ and took place during the last week of January (25th to 28th).

The Summer School was mainly focused on transferable skills and technical training. The first day started off with PROTECT coordinator Prof. Enda Communis (UCD) and Prof. Jan Van Impe (KU Leuven) welcoming the participants and providing a brief overview of the activities to follow. The morning session, dedicated to Knowledge Transfer, included a speech by Mr. Andras Havasi, Corporate Research & Knowledge Transfer Manager from the University of Malta entitled “Fundamentals: a brief overview of what knowledge transfer is about, what opportunities it presents early-stage researchers and what they can expect”. Afterwards, Dr Daniel Buhagiar, CEO and Co-founder of FLASC BV, presented his success story. The afternoon session focused on Dissemination Activities with speakers Ass. Prof. Becca Ferrari, University of Nottingham, Melike Berker, Programme and Project Manager at UoN and Dr Tom Stanton from Nottingham Trent University. The topics covered were “Social media for research management” and the case study “Plastics, Pollution and People. Cross-sector stakeholder engagement and dissemination across multiple platforms”.

The theme of the morning session of the second day was Entrepreneurship and Research by NovaUCD. Invited speakers where Dr Stacey Kelly, Case Manager, Knowledge Transfer, Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Science (NovaUCD), Caroline Gill, Innovation Education Manager (NovaUCD) and Antoine Pajot, Director, AgTech Innovation Centre (NovaUCD). The afternoon session was more technical and oriented towards Data Analysis with Dr Satyajeet Sheetal Bhonsale (KU Leuven/BioTeC+) delivering a lecture on “Uncertainty and uncertainty propagation (in the context of scenario analysis)”.

The following day included a morning session dedicated to Data Analysis as well. PhD researcher Carlos André Muñoz López (KU Leuven/BioTeC+) introduced the ESRs into “Data Mining Fundamentals”. The afternoon session included a speech by Sam Baeten (legal counsel at KU Leuven Research and Development) entitled “Research from a tech transfer perspective”.

The final day of the Summer School covered the topics of Intellectual Property and Research Exploitation. The first speaker was Ivo De Baere, IP Officer at KU Leuven LRD, with a talk on “Intellectual Property Rights: General Introduction & Case Studies”, the second speech was given by Wim Fyen, Investment manager at LRD, highlighting the steps involved “From Idea to Business Plan”. Last but not least, Dr. Rudi Cuyvers (Innovation manager at LRD) explained the need for a thorough “Exploitation plan development”.

As always, it was a nice opportunity for all the PROTECT members to meet, to chat and to have fruitful discussions. The second PROTECT Summer School offered numerous helpful takeaways for all ESRs. We are all looking forward to meeting again, hopefully in person!

Day 2 of PROTECT “Summer” School. ESRs attending NovaUCD’s session on Entrepreneurship and Research.

Publication: Overview of the Potential Impacts of Climate Change on the Microbial Safety of the Dairy Industry by ESR Rodney J. Feliciano, Géraldine Boué and Jeanne-Marie Membré

Published: 3 December 2020 in Foods 2020.

Abstract: Climate change is expected to affect many different sectors across the food supply chain. The current review paper presents an overview of the effects of climate change on the microbial safety of the dairy supply chain and suggest potential mitigation strategies to limit the impact. Raw milk, the common raw material of dairy products, is vulnerable to climate change, influenced by changes in average temperature and amount of precipitation. This would induce changes in the microbial profile and heat stress in lactating cows, increasing susceptibility to microbial infection and higher levels of microbial contamination. Moreover, climate change affects the entire dairy supply chain and necessitates adaptation of all the current food safety management programs. In particular, the review of current prerequisite programs might be needed as well as revisiting the current microbial specifications of the receiving dairy products and the introduction of new pretreatments with stringent processing regimes. The effects on microbial changes during distribution and consumer handling also would need to be quantified through the use of predictive models. The development of Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) models, considering the whole farm-to-fork chain to evaluate risk mitigation strategies, will be a key step to prioritize actions towards a climate change resilient dairy industry.

Available at:

Resuming PhD research work after lockdown – Rodney J. Feliciano

It’s been several months now after the quarantine ended here in France and much has happened after it. Looking back, I was relieved that the regular face-to-face work at ONIRIS resumed after more than 3 months of quarantine or confinement in France. However, as of the time of writing, other ESRs are still in the process of resuming their face-to-face work.  Emerging from the quarantine was a relief and a nice experience for it allowed me to move outside again and get in touch with acquaintances again. In a way it’s regaining life again and the recovery of my regular working hours. Living in quarantine blurred the day and night for me, perhaps it is one of the side effects of the uncertainty that surrounded the COVID-19 situation. The resumption of work was done gradually and was at first limited to certain researchers only. Moreover, the university face-to-face instruction only came after the summer vacation.

Relocating Ph.D. work from my dorm workspace to the office seemed a little bit fulfilling because the things that I have faced before seemed over for now and I have been facing new issues and topics to be incorporated in the next chapter of my thesis. Resuming my work at the office made me realize that I am now at the next stage of my Ph.D. research and was able to continue to work despite the setbacks caused by the quarantine lockdown period. Nevertheless, I still don’t consider what I have previously finished as a closed work as it is still part of my new ongoing activities and will be considered as I progress with my Ph.D. work. Indeed, the adage in academia that work never really ends still looms at the back of my mind. But I know that with the help of my supervisors, I can finish these with their inputs and guidance.

It’s been several months now since the resumption of face-to-face work but the COVID-19 situation is far from over and my fellow ESRs know it and is reflected in our discussions on our upcoming deliverables and collaborations. Much uncertainty still surrounds our secondment and training if we will be able to physically attend them as restrictions for inter-country movement within the EU still exist. Nevertheless, we still hope that when the epidemic is over, a considerable time still remains for us to pursue these programs as originally envisioned in the project or we might have to continue implementing our contingency plans along the way.  For my part, we have already been doing some of these contingency plans since the resumption of face-to-face work. As of the moment, we are collaborating remotely with our partner institution, Al Safi Danone. I was supposed to do my secondment during the third quarter this year but given the current situation, we have decided to conduct regular meetings and correspondence with our partner and process data remotely. This situation might not be the best condition for working but in a way, this is our own way of living under the new-normal conditions as we try to live with the virus.

FOODSIM20/Protect Workshop 1 in the time of COVID-19 – Rodney J. Feliciano

The PROTECT project is not only about training and seminars but also scientific conferences. Events such as these lie at the heart of scientific activity and serves as a venue for communicating initial scientific results and networking. Being an ESR, a neophyte in academia it serves an introduction of sorts to the “greater” subset of the academic sphere. One might even say that it is a sort of plunge into the deeper part of the pool or the acclimatization step prior to the challenge testing. Nevertheless, one cannot underestimate the brevity and simplicity of our presentations for experiences such as these will be part of our treasure trove of learnings. On top of this is the current COVID-19 pandemic and the current rising infections that added a constraint to intercountry movement.  As such, most of my fellow ESRs were not able to physically attend the conference and give our talks. For this part of the blog, I will be presenting the part of being present physically in the unique session of the FOODSIM conference. 

Out of the 8 ESRs, only two were able to attend and I was the only one from outside Belgium that was able to attend the conference, the other was Lydia the ESR in Belgium. Making it to the conference was not easy because of the uncertainty of the situation. With rising cases several days prior to the events, the restriction of travel from certain areas of France to Belgium also started to occur. If not for the push given to me by my supervisor, I would have decided to cancel attending. I managed to push through by changing my initial travel route and bypassing around Paris which is a red zone at that time. This worked, but several days later after arriving in Ghent, I heard that Nantes was also declared a red zone due to the increase in the COVID cases.  Indeed, the timing of the conference and my movement proved providential, and looking back, I consider these small decisions and timings as those times when the stars aligned and seemed to work for me. 

The FOODSIM 2020 indeed will go down in history as the time where it was first held in a hybrid setting, partly on-site and mostly online. Being onsite meant that I am one of the very few who have managed to go to Belgium, there were others from France and the other attendees from the Biotech+, the hosting institution. Attending the conference is quite the same as the traditional conferences.   The difference brought by online presentation didn’t matter much as it proceeded smoothly and the delivery of talks and topics was not less engaging. For me, I opted to still present my prerecorded presentation while the other ESRs who didn’t have internet connection problems have opted to do it live online. However, the greatest difference was in the loss of opportunity to socialize and know the presenters. Aside from communication and presentation, scientific activities are also venues of networking and casual discussion. It is the chance to move beyond the journal articles, monographs, and lectures to informal discussions where the concepts, results presented, and ideas surrounding these are discussed freely and in a less structured manner. Also, these informal discussions if found fruitful and promising may be an entry point of networking and fruitful collaboration.

The conference was followed up by a PROTECT workshop which consisted of training and software presentation. The talks and demo in these sessions were engaging and proceeded smoothly with very minimal internet disruptions. I was able to ask questions easily via the chat feature of Zoom. This was done using the chat box in asking questions efficiently can be done by asking them numbered and formulating these in a concise manner. For me this setup allowed me to communicate my questions clearly and concisely.  Overall, the hybrid setup of the conference and PROTECT session proceeded very well despite the constraints. 

Midterm Check/Plenary Meeting, 12th June 2020 – Stella Roufou

Our first plenary session has been completed and everything went smoothly. During these difficult quarantine days, we must face a new reality of virtual communication. Fortunately, we did not have Wi-Fi connection problems. The meeting was hosted by Zoom software with almost 30 participants. The majority of participants were at home, but coffee and lunch breaks were as usual. It was a unique experience full of fun and I feel grateful for it. The organizers did a great job!

The first day of the event began with a supervisory meeting that ESRs did not attend. At the end of this section, all of us presented our progress and received some comments from supervisors. Mainly, it was an update on our work during these months and how we are handling this pandemic.

On the second day of the meeting, there were more participants, including supervisors, the REA officer and the advisory team. Professor Enda introduced the other professors with their teams, as well as the agenda of the event. The first session was an introductory section by REA officer Stanka Miteva, where she presented the implementation of the project, the report and the purpose of the mid-term check. Later, Professor Enda named the objectives and progress of the project. After the break, all PhD students introduced a little about themselves and their project and they received comments and advice. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to receive comments from these professors. An additional presentation section was recorded to help us improve our presentation skills.

Finally, all the PhD students had a private meeting with the REA officer and we discussed our problems, our questions and she gave us important advice. At the end of the meeting, the whole PROTECT team received positive feedback on the progress of the project. This has led to friendly and funny discussions, as well as an explosion of relevant tweets! In general, the topics focused on the importance of the project, as well as ways to improve our research.

ESRs during quarantine – Ourania Misiou

Due to Covid-19, pandemic measures were taken in the whole of Europe. Thus, all beneficiary universities participating in this project went into lockdown. Unfortunately, our meeting in Ghent, as well as our participation in the FoodSim2020 conference, was postponed.

During these tough days of quarantine, all researchers have to tackle a new reality, along with many difficulties, such as anxiety related to this situation. All researchers are now working from home trying to both keep up the good work and to keep track of the deliverables and the milestones of our project. More specifically, researchers from UCD and ONIRIS submitted their risk assessment on mycotoxins and food safety mitigation strategies. At the same time, researchers from KU Leuven, UOM, and AUTh reviewed all available microbial modelling approaches and delivered a state-of-the-art report.

Apart from their individual work, researchers have participated in the fourth Skype-meeting. During this meeting, each of us gave a brief update of his/her activities regarding each independent project. Most of us are now writing review papers on different aspects of climate change regarding food safety. However, this meeting was more than that. We all grabbed the opportunity to share our thoughts about the pandemic and inform each other about the lockdown situation in the different countries that we live in at the moment. Through this unexpected situation, our meeting ended up being more like group therapy than an official meeting! And this was the very much the moment that we all realized that during the project, we did not only have the opportunity to meet new and talented scientists but also to build new and strong friendships.

After this meeting, we are all more motivated to continue this project, and we are all looking forward to seeing each other again during our next meeting in France!

ESR Skype meetings – Paola Guzman Luna


After meeting for the first time at the summer school in Malta, the next step was to figure out how to stay in touch, considering the fact that the 8 ESRs live in seven different countries. Keeping a track of our progress as a team as well as helping each other by sharing relevant information is quite important. In this kind of situation, the use of technology makes our life easier. Thus, the idea of arranging a skype meeting once per month and creating a shared folder online for important documents was suggested to help with the communication .

Our first skype meeting was done, and everything went smoothly. There was a very fluent and easy-going dynamic in the team. Each of us gave a brief update of our activities. An update of what had happened regarding our independent projects since the last time we saw each other in the Summer School was the starting point of the skype meeting.  Since we have an upcoming conference, FoodSim2020 (Ghent, Brussels), we also gave a general overview of what each of us had in mind to show at the conference. Hearing different points of view under the same umbrella project was amazing. We were doing research!

More than only sharing our outcomes, we also expressed any questions we had regarding the project. We have plenty of upcoming deadlines, so communication within the team is vital to keep us on track and support each other. The meeting was an excellent opportunity for us to share new information, discuss the project and keep us in tune for the upcoming conference submission. It is crucial to do frequent meetings because many common questions are answered, and we have a visual relationship as a group. In order to have evidence of our first meeting, we took notes that work well as proof for our supervisors and as reminders for ourselves. Once we had everything clear and under control, we scheduled our next meeting. I am looking forward to sharing with the rest of the team what I have been working on the last month and hearing what they have done.

It was a great moment to see all the researchers after our training week. I wait anxiously for the next meeting in Ghent where the PROTECT projectwill be part of the conference.

First workshop in Malta – Rhea Sanjiv Chhaya


The new year started with a training week in Malta. The training event held at the University of Malta was open to other PhD student who found the courses relevant to their project. The week long training event was to be delivered by experts in the fields of Risk Assessment and Predictive Modelling (some of whom happened to be our supervisors).

A few of us arrived the day before the workshop was to be held. We planned to meet at a pub aptly named Cork’s Irish Bar where we warmed up to each other over rounds of karaoke and drinks. The evening went down well with all of us, the nervousness forgotten, we were comfortable with each other, and awaited the start of the training event the following day.

The first day of the training event started off with a few minor hitches, including technical and human errors (some people including myself arriving a bit late on the very first day). Professor Enda introduced the project goals, along with the flow of events and the other professors who would be taking over the event. The first session was an introductory session where all the PhD students spoke a bit about themselves and their projects. The itinerary for the rest of the sessions were as follows:

Day 1: Introduction to MATLAB by Professor Jan Van Impe and Satyajeet Bhonsale

Day 2: Predictive Modelling in Microbiology by Professor Jan Van Impe and Design of Experiments; Model Callibration based on informative experiments by Professors Vasillis Valdramidis and Jan Van Impe

Day 3: Risk Analysis, Risk Assessment and Risk based food safety management by Professor Enda Cummins and Dr. Jeanne-Marie Membré

Day 4: Predicitive modelling of microbial growth using Combase and PMP by Professors Kostas Koutsoumanis and Vasillis Valdramidis

Day 5: Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment during Food Processing and Food Storage by Professor Kostas Koutsoumanis and Dr. Geraldine Boue

Each session was highly relevant, and we could see how to incorporate the new information on predictive modelling and risk assessment into our respective projects. Even the students outside the project could relate the knowledge they gained to their projects. The Professors had a different teaching style, though all of them were equally helpful and funny. There was time allotted for self study, where students who were better at a certain subject went around and helped others if required. The coffee breaks proved to be an essential part of the workshop. These breaks allowed us some time to relax, get to know each project better and come up with possible ideas for collaboration. It also helped us engage with the Professors, who either solved our doubts on the project, shared interesting stories as well as discussed ideas for our research.

The week ended with a group dinner. The supervisors took us to a nice Maltese restaurant after which we went to a small bar which the supervisors had visited years ago, during their first training event in Malta. The informal session was fun, where we discovered everyone had hidden talents.

This was the first get together as a group since we had been recruited for the research project. In the short span of time we elected a leader to coordinate with the supervisory and project board. We held our first meeting and named ourselves “The Protectors” after our Project title. We set an agenda for our next meeting which would take place on video call. The key to the success of our project is communication since all the projects are interlinked. The expertise and progress of each ESR will be useful for another, therefore we decided to schedule a video meeting at least once a month.

It was an exciting week. The knowledge gain was incredible and useful for my project. Each of us is more motivated to see the project till the end after this meet, and we hope to keep each other motivated throughout the project.

Starting my career as an Early Stage Researcher – Maro Malliaroudaki


   It is the last day of the year and I am considering the progress I made this year to reach this point, working as an Early Stage Researcher for the International Training Network of PROTECT!

   Why did I apply for this programme? I applied because I felt that it was a great opportunity to start my research career while contributing to a very significant future challenge: The maintenance of the dairy sector in the future under the effects of climate change. I recognized the responsibility of undertaking this project because dairy products play a major role in the human diet and climate change is becoming a vital issue to consider in the food sector development.

Moreover, the special focus on environmental awareness appeals to my values and I really want to contribute. Another important factor that made me keen to be part of this project is that it is cooperative work rather than an individual research project. It is an International Training Network comprising 7 Universities and 7 industrial partners from around Europe and one United Nations agency.

   The acceptance of my application for this job filled me with enthusiasm as well as positive anxiety! Pursuing a PhD was always one of my life goals,  but being part of a Marie Curie International Training Network is something that I could not have imagined!

    It’s been only three months since my project started and I must admit that my life changed completely when I began. Everything was new to me! New country, new people around me and most importantly a huge new responsibility in my life; my research project. The first few months I was trying to explore the dairy sector and study the effects of climate change. I introduced myself to too much new information, I was lost many times, faced difficulties on how to organize myself and follow my deadlines but most of all how to become a researcher. How I want to face research is like a big puzzle which I am trying to put together piece by piece with focus and patience. I am really fascinated about the project, and I believe that with hard work I will be able to produce excellent results. The guidance and support of my supervisors is very helpful, and the people in my working environment are really nice to me! I feel so grateful for my new life!

   Moreover, I am looking forward to my academic and the industrial secondment as part of my training and all the project activities held around Europe. The first group activity is really soon, it’s a training week in Malta on Predictive Modelling Tools and I am looking forward to meeting the other participants of the project!

Summer school of ITN-PROTECT on Predictive Modelling tools

Venue: Faculty of Health Sciences, location in google maps:

Location: University of Malta, Msida, MALTA, 13-17 January 2020

Simulation tools have a myriad of applications in food technologies, food sciences, and food management (traceability, food safety). Food can be formulated optimally, but food substrates (both fluid and solid) are subject to important biochemical/functional/ organoleptic issues during processing. The dependence of these issues upon process operations is strategically important for food safety and quality. Added to these complex processes are potential environmental influences on shelf life and safety which is further compounded by potential climate change influences.

The overall aim of this teaching activity is to train early stage researchers (PhD candidates) in the area of predictive modelling, and risk assessment through a multilateral trans-European cooperation to foster both institutional collaboration and innovative problem based learning initiatives.

 What are the objectives of this teaching activity?

  • To bring together teaching staff who are currently working on different aspects of modelling for simulation and optimisation of the quality and safety of food products.
  • Achieve a more rounded PhD student experience with a positive impact on their employability by developing a number of key competences including scientific and problem solving skills.
  • Address PhD student needs by covering topics regarding predictive modelling, quantitative risk assessment and potential climatic influences.
  • To help young scientists to build scientific networks and collaborations, and stimulate advanced research and new directions in European academia and industry.

It is envisaged that at the end of this teaching activity participants will have a clearer understanding of the quantitative tools to assess product quality, safety, resources intensity and environmental impacts in the food industry. This will enable research activities on more efficient and effective monitoring techniques. 


Prof Géraldine Boué: École Nationale Vétérinaire, Agroalimentaire et de l’Alimentation Nantes-Atlantique, France

Prof Enda Cummins: University College Dublin, Ireland

Prof Kostantinos Koutsoumanis: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Dr Jeanne-Marie Membré: École Nationale Vétérinaire, Agroalimentaire et de l’Alimentation Nantes-Atlantique, France

Prof Vasilis Valdramidis: University of Malta, Malta

Prof Jan Van Impe: KU Leuven, Belgium


500 Euros, max participation: 12 students / allocated on a first come first serve basis

Total attendees: 20 including ESR (including the 8 early stage researchers of PROTECT project)

To express interest and arrange for your registration write to; providing a short motivation (not more than 5 lines) by the 12th of December 2019.

Fees cover access to computer lab facilities with available software, coffee breaks, electronic teaching material and Textbook on Quantitative Tools for Sustainable Food and Energy in the food chain edited by Valdramidis V.P., Cummins E.J., Van Impe, J.F.M. (2018). Publisher: EUROSIS-ETI, ISBN: 978-90-77381-19-60

Accommodation options

Location of summer school (Faculty of Health Sciences – Mater Dei Hospital – entrance from bus stop Mater Dei 2, Msida):,14.477845,17z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x8edb54579c87bbd2!8m2!3d35.9009833!4d14.4778239?hl=en

Walking distance from summer school


PROTECT on Maltese TV

As part of the Science In The City event that took place in Valletta (Malta) on the 27th of September 2019, a documentary was aired on the national television on the night of the event, promoting researchers. This year’s festival theme was ‘The Science of You’ and the documentary tackled, among others, the topic of Climate Change. Prof Valdramidis (PROTECT partner from UM) contributed via a short interview/testimonial on PROTECT activities.

Full interview can be found at:


University College Dublin (Project Coordinator) hosted the kickoff meeting for PROTECT ITN in Dublin in the UCD O’Brien Centre for Science on the 23rd and 24th May 2019. EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan launched the project via video link.