A Kansas State University researcher says that a $760,000 grant from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety will boost efforts to protect the safety of food across the country and world.
Jessie Vipham, an assistant professor in K-State’s Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, will lead the 3 ½ year project that begins in November and will involve experts in food safety, molecular biology, bioinformatics, statistics and social sciences.
The group comes from three U.S. universities and three others in Cambodia, a country beset by one of the highest child mortality rates in Southeast Asia. Vipham and colleagues Nora Bello and Valentina Trinetta lead K-State’s food safety work on this project.
“Food safety has not been prioritized in much of the world, with many people viewing it as a luxury of high-resource economies,” Vipham said. “But food safety directly impacts public health and human prosperity, which directly impacts a nation’s economic development.”
The work will focus on improving conditions in Cambodia, where statistics show that 6% of child mortalities are attributed to diarrheal disease – which is more often associated with unsafe water or poor sanitation.
“Recent estimates indicate that foodborne diseases are heavily contributing to the burden of diarrheal diseases in low-resource economies,” Vipham said.
Vipham said researchers will identify foodborne pathogens linked to human clinical cases in Cambodia, and investigate their presence within the vegetable value-chain. She notes the researchers hope to identify the causes of contaminated food and determine effective food safety interventions.
“We want to measurably reduce the prevalence of foodborne pathogen contamination of vegetables sold in Cambodia,” she said.
Like much work sponsored by USAID, the findings are expected to be transferrable across the world, helping not only to preserve trade markets, but also local public health.
“Food safety is a systematic science,” Vipham said, “and the most successful food safety programs – within a facility, company or country – are those that acknowledge the need to monitor and mitigate through the processing chain.”
“The more global our food systems become, the more we need to broaden approaches for monitoring and mitigating food safety risks. A country’s ability to improve food safety on a national level ensures the safe production of food and reduces the likelihood of foodborne disease for all of us.”
Reducing the risk of foodborne pathogens affects trade markets, but Vipham said she’s also focused on the improving food safety “on domestic levels.”
“Food safety is first and foremost about the protection of public health, which is an issue that impacts all human beings.”
Vipham received the grant from the Food Safety Innovation Lab, which is jointly managed by Purdue and Cornell universities, and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future, the government’s global hunger and food security initiative.
Vipham’s team also includes researchers from Penn State University; and the Royal University of Agriculture, Institute of Technology and Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, all located in Cambodia.