Food Safety


Fruit and vegetables on sale alongside other food items in a local market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg).

The rapid transformation of food systems is creating unintentional infectious disease risks that will need to be addressed through effective coordination between agricultural and public health sectors, a new review study says.

A food system includes all the aspects of feeding and nourishing people: growing, harvesting, packaging, processing, transporting, marketing and consuming food.

The review, published in Lancet Planetary Health (Sept 2022), explored how intensification of agricultural production and increasing complexity of food supply chains, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries, change the risks and relative burdens of infectious diseases.

The review covered four case studies:

  • vector-borne disease in irrigated agriculture;
  • zoonotic diseases in livestock value chains;
  • food safety; and
  • antimicrobial resistance associated with food systems. 

For each case study, the authors asked three questions:

  1. What aspects of food system transition are creating unintentional infectious disease risks?
  2. What solutions might exist for these problems?
  3. How would they require better coordination of agricultural and public health policy and practice?

Food systems in transition are characterized by intensification and diversification of food production, as an increasingly urban and more wealthy population demands different diets.

The review showed that successfully addressing the challenges of evolving food systems calls for constructive dialogue between agricultural and public health sectors.

Such a cross-sectoral approach recognises the costs and benefits of disease-reducing interventions and seeks win–win solutions that are most likely to attract broad policy support and uptake by food systems.

For areas such as antimicrobial resistance, it is important to identify the potential agricultural and health outcomes of agricultural interventions to reduce health risks.

Citation

Waage, J., Grace, D., Fèvre, E.M., McDermott, J., Lines, J., Wieland, B., Naylor, N.R., Hassell, J.M. and Chan, K. 2022. Changing food systems and infectious disease risks in low-income and middle-income countries. Lancet Planetary Health 6(9): e760–e768.

Photo credit: Fruit and vegetables on sale alongside other food items in a local market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg)

To commemorate this year’s World Food Safety Day (7 June) under the theme Safer food, better health, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has launched an online food safety campaign and landing page to showcase its collaborative research on risk-based approaches to improving food safety in low- and middle-income countries.

Better management of foodborne diseases could save nearly half a million lives a year and safeguard the livelihoods of over one billion small-scale livestock producers.

ILRI’s approach to food safety research is based on risk analysis. We identify the hazards in food and build the capacity of policymakers to understand risk-based approaches.

Policy will be more effective and efficient if based on actual risk to human health rather than the presence of hazards. ILRI’s approach is therefore to generate research evidence and develop solutions to improve the safety of animal products in informal food markets.

Visit the landing page to read key food safety messages as well as the latest food safety news from ILRI and information on projects and selected publications. You will also find the profiles of ILRI scientists involved in food safety research.

Join the online conversations by following the hashtags #FoodSafety, #SafeFood and #WorldFoodSafetyDay.

Photo credit: World Health Organization

Market place in Kenya (photo credit: World Bank/Sambrian Mbaabu).

Towards enhancing food safety in East Africa, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) have been working with food safety experts from universities in the East African Community to develop benchmarks for a Bachelor of Science program in food safety.

As part of this endeavour, a workshop to finalize the curriculum benchmark process was held on 22–24 March 2022 in Kampala, Uganda.

The meeting brought together 21 food safety experts to develop the expected learning outcomes of the curriculum and align the learning outcomes with the main and supportive courses derived from a stakeholder engagement exercise.

The outputs of the group and plenary discussions will be used to draft a benchmark report which will be validated and finalized according to IUCEA processes.

The workshop was funded by CGIAR donors, FAO (Lloyd’s Register Foundation), the CGIAR One Health Initiative, the ILRI-led Capacitating One Health in Eastern and Southern Africa (COHESA) project and IUCEA.

The workshop report may be accessed via the link below.

Citation

Kang’ethe, E.K., Mutua, F. and Hung Nguyen-Viet. 2022. Benchmarks for food safety curriculum in the East African Community. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.

Photo credit: Market place in Kenya (World Bank/Sambrian Mbaabu)

Delia Grace

We congratulate Delia Grace, professor of food safety systems at the Natural Resources Institute and joint appointed scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), on winning the 2022 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award in the research innovation category.

Delia Grace is a renowned scientist with unique and transformative impacts on the safety of food systems and public health in developing countries.

As a trained veterinarian and epidemiologist, she brings a special expertise on the interconnectedness of animal health, human health and ecohealth to her work. A focus of her work is improving food safety in informal markets in developing countries.

‘I’m honoured to be named the recipient of the Arrell Global Food Innovation Award in the area of research impact,’ she said.

‘There is a very critical relationship between animal, human and environment health and I hope we can continue to research and find ways to help improve food safety and thus the health of humans and animals. While there is still a lot to learn, by listening and engaging, thinking and trying, we can achieve much more.’

‘Congratulations to Delia Grace Randolph for being awarded with the Arrell Global Food Innovation Award for excellence in research,’ said Evan Fraser, Arrell Food Institute Director.

‘Food safety is critical to food systems, and Delia Grace Randolph’s research in this field has clearly had a positive impact on many people.’

The mission of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph is to bring people together to conduct research, train the next generation of food leaders and shape social, industrial and governmental decisions, always ensuring food is the central priority.

The Arrell Global Food Innovation Awards are adjudicated by a group of internationally recognized scientists and community activists. This year’s adjudicators are Nadia Theodore, senior vice president, global government and industry relations, Maple Leaf Foods; Florence Lasbennes, managing director, 4SD; Lawrence Haddad, executive director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition; and Adrienne Xavier, acting director of the Indigenous Studies Program, McMaster University.

Browse Delia Grace’s research publications here

Photo credit: Vegetable market in Ethiopia (East African Policy Research Institute/Birhanu Lenjiso)

The rapid evolution of global food safety systems in response to population growth, urbanization, climate change and other socio-economic factors poses many food safety challenges.

Globally, unsafe food causes an estimated 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths annually, with Africa disproportionately bearing the highest burden of foodborne diseases.

To effectively tackle the challenge of foodborne diseases in Africa, a team of scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Ohio State University has proposed the use of risk-based and One Health approaches.

These approaches to food safety management were put forward in a presentation titled Better food safety solutions in Africa: Understanding the complex social, economic and policy perspectives. The presentation was given at the 37th World Veterinary Association Congress held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on 29–31 March 2022.

The main foodborne hazards in the African context were discussed, with local and continental examples of food safety initiatives aimed at reducing the burden of foodborne disease and improving public health. Examples of action research and political decision-making on food safety at the continental level were also described.

In light of the complex nature of global and African food safety systems, food safety interventions to reduce foodborne diseases need to be well designed and coordinated, the researchers say.

Citation

Amenu, K., Alonso, S., Mutua, F., Roesel, K., Lindahl, J., Kowalcyk, B., Knight-Jones, T. and Grace, D. 2022. Better food safety solutions in Africa: Understanding the complex social, economic and policy perspectives. Oral presentation at the 37th World Veterinary Association Congress, 29-31 March 2022, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.

Photo credit: Vegetable market in Ethiopia (East African Policy Research Institute/Birhanu Lenjiso)

Milk cans at Ol Kalou Dairy Plant, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Effective communication and constructive dialogue on inclusive ways forward between policy-makers and informal milk vendors can help to bridge the gap between policy and reality in Kenya’s informal milk sector, according to a new research study published in Development Policy Review (May 2022).

Around 80% of milk in Kenya is sold informally, providing livelihoods and contributing to the food security and nutrition of low-income consumers. Government policy, however, is focused on formalization—primarily through licensing and pasteurization—with enforcement via fines, confiscation of milk or closing the premises of informal actors.

The study, which was carried out by researchers from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), sought to better understand if, and why, Kenya’s informal milk sector and regulatory system are disconnected from one another and how the policy–reality gap might be better bridged.

To understand the nature and performance of Kenya’s informal milk markets and their governance, the authors used surveys with informal market players and key informant interviews. Fieldwork was carried out in Nairobi in late 2018.

The study found that milk safety and quality matters to all actors in informal milk value chains. The trust-based system used is effective in moderating behaviour and assessing and prioritizing quality and safety. 

However, government policy was found not to accomplish the stated goal of formalization, with low levels of licensing among informal actors. Pasteurization was not rewarded in the market and there was some evidence of sub-optimal pasteurization processes being undertaken to satisfy regulators. 

These findings point to a gap between the reality of Kenya’s informal milk sector and its policy and regulatory system.

This gap is seen in the form of adversarial relationships between regulators and informal actors, and unnecessary transaction costs, missing opportunities for enhancing livelihoods, food safety, and food security. 

The authors of the study therefore recommend that new approaches build on and consider existing approaches taken by actors in informal food markets to ensure food safety and quality. 

Citation

Blackmore, E., Guarín, A., Vorley, B., Alonso, S. and Grace, D. 2022. Kenya’s informal milk markets and the regulation-reality gap. Development Policy Review 40(3): e12581.

Photo credit: Milk collection at a dairy plant in Ol Kalou, Kenya (ILRI/Paul Karaimu)

Transformation of food systems is key to addressing malnutrition, non-communicable diseases, climate change and other global health challenges of the 21st century, a new research study says.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Jan 2022), presents a synthesis of the 22nd Annual Harvard Nutrition Obesity Symposium held in June 2021 entitled ‘Global Food Systems and Sustainable Nutrition in the 21st Century’.

The symposium was a collaboration between the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard and the Harvard Medical School Division of Nutrition and was organized ahead of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021.

A food system includes all the aspects of feeding and nourishing people: growing, harvesting, packaging, processing, transporting, marketing and consuming food.

The authors of the study note that the nutrition and health communities have a significant role to play in ensuring that food systems produce affordable, nutritious and safe food in an equitable manner that safeguards environmental sustainability.

“Food systems need to be better managed and governed to ensure that food system transformation is redesigned to improve nutrition and health, ensure environments are sustainable and resilient, promote fair and equitable livelihoods, and mitigate climate change,” the authors state.

CGIAR-affiliated scientists Delia Grace and Namukolo Covic are among the co-authors of the study.

Delia Grace is professor of food safety systems at the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich and joint-appointed scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Namukolo Covic is the ILRI Director General’s Representative to Ethiopia and previously served as senior research coordinator for the CGIAR Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Citation

Fanzo, J., Rudie, C., Sigman, I., Grinspoon, S., Benton, T.G., Brown, M.E., Covic, N., Fitch, K., Golden, C.D., Grace, D., Hivert, M.-F., Huybers, P., Jaacks, L.M., Masters, W.A., Nisbett, N., Richardson, R.A., Singleton, C.R., Webb, P. and Willett, W.C. 2022. Sustainable food systems and nutrition in the 21st century: A report from the 22nd Annual Harvard Nutrition Obesity Symposium. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 115(1): 18–33.

Photo credit: Fruit and vegetable on sale in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg)

The pig production sector in Rwanda is growing rapidly as a result of rising local and regional demand for pork. To better understand how the sector operates, a new study has analysed the country’s pig and pork value chains to map the various actors involved, the governance and sanitary risks and the potential impacts on food safety.

The study, which is published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science (Jan 2022), was carried out by a team of scientists affiliated to the International Livestock Research Institute, the University of Global Health Equity, the University of Leeds, the University of Liverpool and the University of Rwanda.

The researchers held key informant interviews and focus group discussions with farmers, brokers, butchers, abattoir managers and veterinarians to collect data on pig production methods and inputs, the source and destination of live and slaughtered pigs, pork processing infrastructure (abattoirs and factories), the people involved and interactions between them, governance and challenges.

Smallholder farmers dominate pig production in Rwanda, primarily as a source of supplementary income but also for manure. The study also found medium and large pig farms around urban areas. There are few veterinarians attending farms, with most veterinary services provided by less qualified technicians or through self-treatment of pigs by farmers.

Pigs are bought and sold at live pig markets, where brokers play key roles in setting prices, examining pigs for disease and organizing the supply of pigs to abattoirs and for export. The study identified only a few formal pig abattoirs which mainly supply to pork processing factories in Kigali or export to customers.

Although formal abattoirs were attended by a veterinary inspector, a lack of record keeping was noted. Local consumers rely on informal pig slaughtering at farms or restaurant backyards, with irregular veterinary inspection. This observed weakness in pork inspection poses a potential risk to public health.

Generally, the study found that the main sanitary risks were a lack of biosecurity throughout the chain and poor hygiene at slaughter places.

For example, although palpation of the pigs’ tongues was carried out at the markets to check for tapeworm cysts, pigs that tested positive for cysts were not destroyed but were sold at reduced prices in the same market or later informally sold by the owner.

Overall, the pig value chain in Rwanda is characterized by a high degree of informality at all nodes, combined with a rapid growth trajectory in the sector.

The findings of this study provide useful evidence for policymakers to design interventions to address the weaknesses identified in Rwanda’s pig value chain towards improving food safety and safeguarding the health of consumers.

Citation

Shyaka, A., Quinnell, R.J., Rujeni, N. and Fèvre, E. 2022. Using a value chain approach to map the pig production system in Rwanda, its governance, and sanitary risks. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 8: 720553.

Funding

This study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council Global Challenge Research Fund (Grant number MR/P025471/1). Author Fèvre acknowledges partial support from the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and acknowledges the CGIAR Fund Donors (http://www.cgiar.org/funders).

Photo credit: Pig in concrete stable in Mukono District, Uganda (ILRI/Elisabeth Kilian)

Market near Khulungira Village, in central Malawi

The role of food crops as a conduit for transmission of antimicrobial resistance from soil and water to humans has not been widely studied. Contamination of food crops with antimicrobial-resistant pathogens presents an added foodborne risk to human health.

A team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the International Livestock Research Institute, the University of Copenhagen, Royal Veterinary College and CABI carried out a systematic literature review to consolidate the current state of knowledge on antimicrobial resistance in food crop value chains globally. The review is published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems (3 Feb 2022).

The review summarized and compared baseline descriptive data on antimicrobial resistance detected in crops and crop inputs globally. This enabled the identification of gaps in understanding of the potential food safety risks to consumers. 

A search of four bibliographic databases using synonyms of antimicrobial resistance in food crop value chains identified 196 studies of interest from 49 countries, mostly in Asia (89 studies) and Africa (38 studies). 

The four most frequently recorded species of interest were Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica, and Enterococcus faecium or Enterococcus faecalis. Salad crops, vegetables, and culinary herbs were the most sampled crops. 

The review found that acquired antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens is disseminated throughout food crop value chains in multiple regions around the world. 

However, there were variable patterns of distribution of antimicrobial resistance. Chloramphenicol resistance was reported in food value chain samples in low- and middle-income countries in Asia and Africa while vancomycin resistance in enterococci was reported in food crops from high-income countries.

“This review confirms the widespread reporting of resistance to antimicrobials of medical importance in human pathogenic microbes isolated from crops, both in the field and marketplace,” the authors state.

However, it is difficult to conclusively quantify the risks of exposure to consumers because of the low number of longitudinal studies and diverse sampling methods used.

“Firm conclusions cannot be drawn on the prevalence and relative importance of different kinds of resistance and antimicrobial resistance transmission pathways because of the substantial heterogeneity between study methods and conditions,” the authors caution.

“There is a need to include agriculturally-derived antimicrobial resistance in monitoring food safety risks from plant-based foods, and the challenges facing its surveillance,” the authors recommend.

Citation

Brunn, A., Kadri-Alabi, Z., Moodley, A., Guardabassi, L., Taylor, P., Mateus, A. and Waage, J. 2022. Characteristics and global occurrence of human pathogens harboring antimicrobial resistance in food crops: A scoping review. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems 6: 824714.

Funding

This scoping review was partially supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Photo credit: Market near Khulungira Village, in central Malawi (ILRI/Stevie Mann)

Fruit and vegetables on sale alongside other food items in a local market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg).

The CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) published its 2020 annual report on activities and accomplishments from its five research flagships:

  • food systems for healthier diets;
  • biofortification;
  • food safety;
  • supporting policies, programs, and enabling action through research; and
  • improving human health.

Noting that the year 2020 was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, A4NH director John McDermott said: “The pandemic emphasized the importance of A4NH core research strengths: One Health, nutrition, and food systems, into which gender and equity considerations are integrated as critical to improve nutrition and health outcomes. As a result, A4NH research leaders and teams were called into central roles in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts during 2020 by CGIAR as well as in programs and projects in partner countries.”

The 10-year research program ended in December 2021 as CGIAR transitions to a new research structure and portfolio from 2022.

Access the A4NH 2020 annual report or read the online version.

Photo credit: Local food market in Addis Ababa (ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg)

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