Consuming unsafe food is a major public health threat globally, but the continent bearing the most burden is Africa, where more than 91 million people fall ill and 140,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to the World Health Organization.

"Developing countries often do not have the technology, infrastructure, or government oversight in place to safeguard food systems," said Catherine Cutter, professor of food science and Penn State Extension assistant director for food safety and quality programs.

Perhaps the greatest concern, she said, is a lack of food safety knowledge, a problem she aspires to change through a two-part international food safety research project.

The first part of the project entailed the design of a comprehensive food safety assessment, which she distributed initially to personnel in five food safety and microbiology laboratories in three African countries: Ethiopia, Uganda, and Mozambique. Participants answered questions about their knowledge, attitudes, and skill sets.

The second part of the assessment comprised in-person site visits by Siroj Pokharel, then a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Food Science. Pokharel found that there were often differences between participants' self-assessment answers and their actual behaviors, attitudes, and skills/practices.

Based on the findings, Cutter and her team have developed a customized training program to address these gaps. Cutter hopes it will serve as the catalyst for the laboratories and government and academic leaders to be change agents in strengthening food systems in their countries.

--Amy Duke