Students attend the Guelph Biomathematics and Biostatistics Symposium

Reflections from Carlee Wright

(summer student and incoming MSc student)

IMG_0769The biostatistics symposium presented a diverse range of topics on food safety and modeling of foodborne illness. I found it interesting to learn about the close relationship that exists between the sciences and math, and how important it is for both to collaborate in order find effective solutions to food safety issues. I enjoyed the presentation by Aamir Fazil on using statistics to determine the best point of intervention during chicken processing, in order to reduce contamination and/or human infections. It was effective in conveying how complex food production systems are, and how difficult it can be to make successful changes to improve human health.

I was also particularly interested in a talk by Kate Thomas on estimating the number of cases of foodborne illness in Canada. It was shocking to learn that millions of Canadians are affected each year, yet very few of them are actually diagnosed and reported. This makes it extremely difficult to accurately estimate incidence of illnesses and the burden on the health system. This is where mathematical and statistical models become key, and the lecture made it clear that even with these tools there are still many uncertainties.

Overall, the symposium was valuable in reinforcing the idea that disciplines need to be combined in order for researchers and professionals to be most successful in their work. This concept applies not just to the food safety industry, but across all academic fields, and it is important to recognize this connection.


Reflections from Jenifer Truong

(summer student and incoming fourth years honours thesis student)

After being made aware that in most if not all aspects of research requires knowledge of statistics, I was very intrigued and excited to learn more about how researchers were incorporating statistics and mathematical models into their projects. At first, I was afraid that it would be difficult to follow along with the topics presented, however, upon attending the symposium, I feel more adept and able to take on various challenges with statistics in research.

It was refreshing to see the collaborations between mathematicians, statiscians and bioscience researchers. As the IHACC project will involve a lot of analysis of how climate change impacts food safety and security, it was interesting to learn about how to estimate the number of cases of FBI in Canada and what needs to be accounted for in collecting the data.

One presentation that stood out in particular was epidemiologist Kate Thomas’ topic on ‘Estimating the Number of Cases of Foodborne Illness in Canada.’ From her presentation, I learned that we had to take into account the amount of people that underreport foodborne illnesses, as well as the potential for the doctor to request a fecal sample, and the accuracy of the fecal sample testing itself when calculating the number of FBI per year. I also found the presentation by Amy Greer, CRC Chair of Population Disease Modelling, on ‘A primer for thinking about the introduction and spread of infectious diseases along the farm-to-fork continuum’ to be very intriguing. I find that I am able to critically think and become more aware of how infectious diseases are spread and the location/steps in which this can happen.

Overall, I found the theme of Foodborne Illness was very practical because there are over 75 million cases of FBI per year in the UC and over 4 million reported cases/year in Canada. The connection between research and statistics was also very well established and evidently presented at the symposium as well. What I learned was the importance of the fields of mathematics and statistics in the regulation of food safety. Whether it is risk assessments, the estimation of the burden of FBI and or the surveillance for outbreaks of food poisoning, statistics plays an essential role in this. I’m excited to begin the IHACC project and put the skills and knowledge that I’ve gained at this symposium to use!