March 5, 2020 | By Haley F. Oliver, Randy W. Worobo

Field Notes - Food Safety Research is Foundational to Food Security

Foods can be nutritious, sufficient, and available, but if those foods are unsafe, there is no food security. In August 2019, USAID Deputy Director Bonnie Glick announced the Feed the Future Food Safety Innovation Lab (FSIL) as a new food safety focused research investment to complement the work of USAID’s Bureau for Food Security.  The FSIL, jointly managed by Purdue and Cornell Universities, is a $10 million, five-year project aimed to support sustainable, high impact research that improves food safety in developing economies.

Who We Are and Our Research Philosophy

Purdue and Cornell Universities are globally recognized as leaders in food safety research, training, and development and are honored to be the management entity of the FSIL.  Our technical team is composed of faculty members with more than 100 cumulative years of pre-harvest, post-harvest, and food processing safety expertise in domestic and international settings.  Our vision for the FSIL research portfolio takes into account the recent Global Food Safety Partnership metanalysis of $340 million in food safety development investments representing over 500 projects and 30 donors in Africa. The assessment concluded that investment is fragmented, but has focused on national control, export to high value markets, and chemical hazards such as aflatoxins and pesticide residues.  While these investments are foundational to reducing the global burden of foodborne disease, the World Health Organization states that the majority of foodborne illness are caused by bacterial infections.  Further, the vast majority of consumers source foods in informal markets. Therefore, to improve food safety in larger populations, community level development was also prioritized.

Given these parameters, the FSIL research portfolio will focus on four themes: (i) enhancing awareness from households to the private sector, (ii) building local research capacity to conduct food safety research on regional issues, (iii) supporting translation and dissemination networks to develop policies and engagement structures improving enabling conditions, and (iv) translating food safety research into training, guidelines, & commercialized products.  The FSIL will prioritize private-public partnerships and empowerment of women, youth, and other marginalized populations as they are critical to meaningful, sustainable food safety advancements.

Current Research Portfolio and Forthcoming Requests for Applications

The FSIL research portfolio was launched with five short-term QuickStart research projects in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal.   The Bangladesh QuickStart, led by Sathguru Management Consultants in collaboration with Cornell University, aims to analyze existing food safety risks, the regulatory framework and scientific capacity to address food safety risks, and industry preparedness and gaps in food safety systems in Bangladesh. The Cambodia QuickStart project, a collaboration among Purdue University, Kansas State University, and the Center of Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN; RUA, Phnom Penh), will provide a comprehensive understanding of pathogen transmission of vegetables at distribution levels in Cambodia. These data will be coupled with quantitative assessments of barriers to adoption of food safety practices so that interventions with the greatest likelihood of adoption can be designed and implemented. 

The Ethiopia QuickStart will gather and refine existing educational materials related to the safe handling and storage of milk for use in training smallholder women dairy farmers. The training materials will be aligned with the programmatic standards of ongoing food safety projects supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development. The trainings will be conducted by Addis Ababa University faculty and staff, with support from North Carolina A&T State University faculty.  The Kenya QuickStart is led by the International Livestock Research Institute; it is designed to understand food safety control systems and assess stakeholder understanding of food safety in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda.  Lastly, the Senegal QuickStart, led by Purdue University in partnership with the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA), is conducting a pilot study to identify the extent of microbial and fungal contamination in groundnuts that are produced and consumed by rural Senegalese households.

Each of the nine-month QuickStart projects includes a landscape analysis of food safety investments, successes, and opportunities in each country, which the FSIL management entity is using to inform and refine our research priorities for the long-term program.   In late spring 2020, we will widely distribute Requests for Applications (RFA) to address specific food safety research questions that reflect the themes of the FSIL, priorities identified by the landscape analyses, and widely sought USAID inputs.  Updates on the RFA will be available on the FSIL website and on Twitter @FoodSafetyIL.  We feel strongly that leading the FSIL is a privilege and we look forward to seeing the food safety research community’s innovative proposed solutions toward our unified goal of reducing foodborne illness globally.



“This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Purdue and Cornell Universities and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.”


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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