PhD Studentship: Evaluating the food safety of culinary herbs cultivated in peat-free growing media

Harper Adams
June 18, 2023
Offerd Salary:£18,622
Working address:N/A
Contract Type:Fixed Term - 36 Mont
Working Time:Full time
Working type:N/A
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PhD Studentship: Evaluating the food safety of culinary herbs cultivated in

peat-free growing media

Research Office Location: Newport, Shropshire TF10 8NB

Salary: As per advert Post Type: Full Time Contract Type: Fixed Term - 36 Months - Up to 36 months Closing Date: 23.59 hours BST on Sunday 18 June 2023 Reference: RD-PHD-01-DA-MH-RHS

Primary supervisor: Professor Dawn Arnold, [email protected] and Dr. Lynn McIntyre

Non-academic partner: Royal Horticultural Society. Professor Alistair Griffiths and Dr. Raghavendra Prasad

Project Title: ‘Evaluating the food safety of culinary herbs cultivated in peat-free growing media'

The expected start date for the studentship is October 2023. The student will be registered for a PhD at Harper Adams University and based at Harper Adams University, Edgmond, Shropshire, UK. With timely visits to RHS Wisley for trials and other research/training purposes. The studentship will cover the current tuition fee rate plus a yearly stipend set at the UKRI figure – currently £18,622 per year (2023/22 academic year).

Project description:

Peat has been a major ingredient as a horticulture growing medium component, owing to its physical, chemical and biological properties, and low economic cost. Peat extraction for horticulture use removes stable, sequestered carbon and releases it into the active carbon cycle, exacerbating climate change. Environmental actions on peat are increasingly being addressed through developing legislation in the UK and EU nations, hence phasing out the use of peat in horticulture by the transition towards economically viable and environmentally sustainable peat-free alternatives will be of great significance.

Culinary herbs (e.g. Basil, Coriander and Thyme) are a few of the ready-to- eat fresh food produce commonly consumed as part of a healthy diet. Herbs are often consumed raw and do not require additional processing before consumption like washing, thawing, or reheating and therefore have to satisfy high microbiological quality standards.

As the UK and international horticulture industry are preparing for the transition to peat-free production/cultivation, a food-safety concern when using various peat alternatives and peat-free mixes (e.g. coir, word fibre, bark, green compost etc.) in culinary herbs production might carry the risk of human pathogens. Human pathogens such as Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella spp. and Listeria monocytogenes present in a growing media ingredients including peat-based and/or peat-free alternatives/substrates could pose a potential risk of foodborne illness, resulting from the consumption of fresh produce contaminated with the above-mentioned human pathogens.

The potential presence, uptake and persistence of human pathogens from the growing media into the edible parts of consumed fresh produce by either physical contamination/internalisation will become an important issue to address from both peat-free culinary cultivation and food safety aspects. The proposed PhD study will assess the potential reason for the presence of the human pathogen in peat-alternatives/peat-free growing media and the role of agronomic/horticultural interventions that can inhibit the presence/physical spread/internalisation of human pathogens from various peat-free growing media into edible parts of culinary herbs.

Person specification:

Candidates will normally be expected to hold an undergraduate degree with a 1st or a 2.1 in an appropriate subject area (e.g. microbiology, agricultural science, biological science, or a related subject area). For those who hold a 2.2 at undergraduate level, an additional Masters degree in a relevant field and/or three years postgraduate experience would be required.

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Harper Adams University is one of the premier UK Higher Education institutions focused on the land-based and food supply chain sector. With around 2,800 undergraduate students, plus those completing postgraduate, research and CPD programmes, Harper Adams University is the UK's largest single provider of higher education for these subjects. Programmes fall into eleven broad subject areas – but none operate in isolation. Community and collaboration are key at Harper Adams, meaning everyone, including staff, students and industry partners, benefits from a close network of knowledge and opportunity exchange. Situated in Shropshire, the campus and the surrounding area provide an excellent working and living environment for staff and students alike.

Harper Adams is consistently positioned highly in a range of national ratings, performance measures and league tables. The University has been the highest performing modern university in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide for the last four years, climbing to 17th place in the overall league table. In the 2020 guide Harper Adams was named Modern University of the Year and runner-up University of the Year. In the 2019 Whatuni? Student Choice Awards, based on student reviews, Harper Adams won the Student Support category for the fifth time – the only university to have taken the title since the awards began - and won the category for best job prospects for a fourth year running. In the 2020 QS World Rankings for Agriculture and Forestry published in March 2020, Harper Adams was ranked first in the UK for academic reputation and second in the world for its reputation with employers.

Harper Adams University is internationally recognised for the quality of its research, as evidenced by the Research Excellence Framework 2022. In order to maintain and uphold the high standards of our research, we continue to undertake initiatives to ensure that integrity, ethics and excellence are at the core of our research activities and fully embedded in our research culture.


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