Dr. Abiodun Atoloye

Growing up in Nigeria with an aptitude for math and science, Abiodun Atoloye aspired to become a pharmacist or chemical engineer. However, a nutrition course during her third year at Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University changed everything.

“I became fascinated with food, diet, and their effects on health,” says Atoloye, now an assistant professor of nutrition in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences (NDFS) at Utah State University. “Moreover, I became more aware of global health issues, such as malnutrition, obesity, and chronic diseases, and I wanted to contribute solutions through public health initiatives.”

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Dr. Nkem Torimiro

By Valeria Mendoza

Meet Keorimy Ouk, a passionate advocate for food safety in Cambodia. Originally from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Keorimy is pursuing a master’s degree in Food Safety and Technology at the Royal University of Agriculture, while serving as a Program Officer at the Center of Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN) and lead technician on a project funded by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety (FSIL). Through her research, Keorimy aims to understand the challenges posed by foodborne illnesses and help implement effective strategies to mitigate these risks, ultimately improving public health and raising food safety standards in Cambodia’s agricultural sector. We spoke with Keorimy to learn more about her research, career ambitions, and the connection between agricultural practices and food safety.

In your opinion, what barriers does Cambodia face in strengthening food safety?

In Cambodia, we’ve achieved considerable success in food security; there’s ample food available with good nutritional value. However, food safety is a relatively new concept here. It’s not just me: Many people view food safety as a non-essential issue. This mindset poses a significant challenge. There’s a general lack of awareness and interest in adhering to food safety policies and regulations. From my experience, raising awareness about food safety is crucial. I believe that if people start recognizing its importance, it could greatly reduce food-borne illnesses. Educating the public about food safety is essential for improving overall health and preventing diseases that can arise from unsafe food practices.

You take a supply chain approach to food safety research. How does that work? 

Food safety is closely tied to agricultural practices, and improving agriculture can have a direct impact on enhancing food safety. In my research, I focus on understanding and mitigating contamination in agriculture, particularly in diverse farming systems. For the FSIL project, my interest primarily lies in assessing microbial contamination throughout various points in the produce supply chain. This involves collecting samples from farms, markets, and vendors to identify stages with the highest risk of microbial contamination. We aim to identify critical control points for microbial contamination throughout the entire supply chain, from farms to markets.

Prior pilot projects revealed high levels of E. coli and Salmonella in market-sold fish, prompting further investigation into each step of the supply chain. By identifying steps with high contamination, we can develop targeted interventions or technological solutions to mitigate these risks. For example, if farms are identified as common sources of contamination, we can introduce specific farm-level measures to address this issue. Similarly, if markets are found to have high contamination levels, we can implement strategies to prevent it at that stage. This comprehensive approach is vital for enhancing food safety and public health in Cambodia.

What have you learned so far about food safety in traditional farming systems?

This aspect of my research is not just academically fascinating but also vital for improving food safety standards in our region. Here, traditional farming practices often involve integrating crops with livestock. My goal is to understand how different farming methods impact the level of microbial contamination. For instance, when crops are combined with livestock farming, there’s a risk of cross-contamination from environmental factors, such as bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella. It’s crucial for farmers to implement measures to prevent this, such as separating crops and livestock and ensuring rigorous hygiene practices. For farms that have produce and livestock, my key recommendation is to minimize cross-contamination by keeping livestock away from areas where produce is grown and ensuring that equipment is cleaned thoroughly if used in both settings. This approach is aimed at reducing foodborne contamination at the farm level.

What are your career aspirations? 

At the moment, I haven’t made any concrete plans for my research after completing my master’s degree. I am excited to be taking on a new opportunity as a Program Officer at CE SAIN. While this position may not be directly related to food safety in Cambodia, it presents an excellent opportunity for me to contribute to the development of the new generation in the field of agriculture. I will have the chance to work with students and engage them in various aspects of agriculture, ranging from crop cultivation and fish farming to food science and animal science. My goal is to encourage and empower young people to pursue careers in agriculture and play a role in increasing food production and improving our nation’s food security. I sincerely hope to serve as an inspiration for the younger generation, encouraging them to pursue studies in agriculture. My aim is to instill in them the enthusiasm to actively contribute to the enhancement of agriculture in Cambodia, with a particular focus on ensuring food safety.

What has been notable about your research with FSIL?

My project team was incredibly supportive. Whenever I encountered any issues, whether they were resource-related or technical, the team provided comprehensive assistance. They offered complete support in terms of technical resources and funding. This level of support was invaluable to the success of my research. Dr. Jessie [Vipham], Dr. Paul [Ebner], and others consistently offered me extensive guidance and numerous opportunities, especially vital in a setting like Cambodia where resources can be limited. Their guidance was crucial in navigating the unique challenges of the region. They also provided a wealth of training, including in laboratory skills, statistics, and manuscript writing. I consider myself very fortunate to have their comprehensive support, which has significantly enriched my experience and learning.

Valeria Mendoza is a program assistant with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety and is pursuing a degree in Food Science at Purdue University.

As a young boy in Western Kenya, Robert Onsare bore witness to the devastating effects of foodborne pathogens. His village in Kisii County lacked proper sanitation and wash facilities, which led to many families — including his close relatives — falling victim to foodborne illness.

“I grew up in a rural setting where poverty is very common. One of the key challenges that existed then and still continues to be a problem is foodborne pathogens,” says Onsare. “I saw close relatives get sick, and some of them died.”

The harrowing experiences instilled in him a passion to fight the spread of foodborne pathogens in his home country. Today, he serves as a senior research scientist in the Centre for Microbiology Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). KEMRI, the medical research arm of the Kenyan government, ranks as a leading health research institution in Africa and globally.

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By Valeria Mendoza

Purity Njoki is a graduate student from Kiambu County, Kenya, with a strong commitment to the field of food safety. Currently pursuing advanced studies at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Purity is interested in microbiology and public health, with a particular focus on combatting foodborne illnesses in her community. As part of her research, Purity is actively engaged with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety (FSIL), which works to strengthen food safety in Africa and Asia. We talked with Purity to learn more about her background, the intersection of food safety and public health, the FSIL project, and her vision for advancing food safety practices in Kenya.

How did you get interested in food safety?

At first, my primary interest was in clinical trials. However, with the growing prominence of foodborne illnesses as a major issue in Kenya, I felt compelled to shift my focus toward a field that addresses this concern directly – food safety. As a result, I am currently balancing my involvement in clinical trials, which was my initial passion, with my newfound dedication to the critical realm of food safety.

Your interests lie at the intersection of food safety and public health. How does your research with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety aim to tackle these challenges?

This research project is dedicated to investigating the prevalence of foodborne illnesses, particularly among the economically disadvantaged. Our primary focus is on addressing Campylobacter and Salmonella in the poultry value chain, as they are significant contributors to foodborne diseases. Through the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety we have the opportunity to provide training to small-scale poultry farmers, educating them on proper handling techniques, hygiene, and how to prevent cross-contamination in their routine processes. I believe that by imparting this knowledge, we can significantly reduce the incidence of foodborne illnesses in our community.

Looking forward, could you share your future research plans and career aspirations within the food safety industry? How do you envision making a meaningful impact in this field?

While I have not yet begun my master’s program, I am eager to start soon, with my intended focus being in the field of food safety. In the future, I aim to address a common issue where individuals unknowingly engage in improper food handling practices. Specifically, I plan to provide training to those working in the poultry and dairy industries, imparting knowledge on how to prevent cross-contamination and manage pathogens effectively. My ultimate goal is to empower them with the knowledge to distinguish between correct and incorrect practices, ultimately contributing to a significant reduction in foodborne illnesses and the protection of public health.

Valeria Mendoza is a program assistant with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety and is pursuing a degree in Food Science at Purdue University.


By Valeria Mendoza

Meet Malyheng Chhoeun, a graduate student at the Royal University of Agriculture, who is delving into the vital field of food safety. Originally from Kampot province, Malyheng has earned her bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Technology and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the same field. She brings her academic knowledge and passion to the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety project in Cambodia. Learn about her journey in this food safety and nutrition initiative and the impact she is making in Cambodia.

What motivated you to pursue a career in food science?

I have a passion for learning about food safety. The potential impact of these initiatives on a broad scale has always fascinated me. After all, safeguarding food safety is intricately linked to

human well-being, aligning ideally with my academic pursuits. During my undergraduate years, I was particularly captivated by the multifaceted aspects of creating safe and nourishing food. The potential difference that ensuring food safety and enhancing its nutritional value for widespread consumption deeply intrigued me.

I’ve found a strong sense of resonance with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety (FSIL). Joining my work with FSIL offers me a platform to actively contribute to my aspirations. What’s even more exciting is our shared objectives, which provide a robust foundation for enabling impactful collaborations.

What questions are you addressing through your Food Safety Innovation Lab research?

Currently, my research focus is centered on the microbiological aspects of cross-contamination within wet markets. Our study zeroes in on critical pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella, discovering potential pathways of cross-contamination that can taint fresh vegetables. Given the widespread consumption of raw vegetables, which is especially prominent in Cambodia, understanding how these pathogens can potentially affect people’s health is of importance for food safety in Cambodia.

My focus has been primarily on the market level. Within this scope, I’ve chosen to concentrate on the infrastructure aspect, specifically how sellers arrange their vegetables. In the wet markets of Cambodia, it’s a common practice for many sellers to place their products directly on the ground. Unfortunately, this often leads to potential contamination from various sources such as liquids or insects.

My objective is to highlight the inherent risks associated with this practice. By gathering evidence, I aim to illustrate that placing vegetables on the ground isn’t a safe approach, particularly concerning food safety. The underlying premise is to emphasize the importance of market infrastructures. Alongside this, I’m addressing the critical issue of cross-contamination that occurs in the vicinity of these setups. Factors like bathroom facilities and waste disposal play a significant role in this context, and my research dives into these aspects to shed light on their significance.

What are some of the food safety challenges in Cambodia?

When discussing food safety, it becomes evident that developing countries face significant challenges within the food value chains, particularly concerning critical aspects like sanitation and hygiene. While research has been conducted in these areas, its scope remains somewhat limited. Robust and comprehensive research is essential to address these concerns effectively.

Moreover, the concept of food safety is relatively novel within the Cambodian context. Unlike developed countries, where awareness about safe food practices is more established, there is a noticeable lack of awareness in developing nations like Cambodia. In such settings, the need to enhance awareness becomes important. This is where evidence-based research plays a pivotal role. As a master’s student involved in projects related to food safety, my role takes on a crucial dimension. I delve into the context, working to understand the perspectives of various stakeholders along the value chain, including producers, sellers, and consumers. This understanding is integral to bridging the gap in awareness. By systematically collecting insights and evidence, we can progressively raise said awareness about the significance of food safety. This process might be gradual and slow, but each step forward contributes to the overall goal of improving health and well-being.

What is your approach to raising awareness about food safety?

To begin, it’s important to acknowledge that many people in Cambodia aren’t familiar with the concept of food safety. In this context, my approach would involve presenting relatable scenarios that might occur in their daily lives. For instance, I would discuss the causes behind instances of diarrhea – something most individuals have experienced or witnessed. By delving into the reasons behind such occurrences, I can gradually introduce the connection to food safety.

The key lies in bridging the gap between their reality and the concept itself. This means linking the concept to their lifestyles, well-being, and everyday experiences. If I can make this connection tangible and relatable, it could lead to a better understanding of why food safety matters and how it directly impacts their lives. Ultimately, the goal is to bring awareness by making the concept both understandable and relevant within their own context.

What are your aspirations upon completing your master’s degree?

After completing my master’s degree research, my goal is to identify insights that hold significance for a broader audience. I would like to apply the knowledge I’ve accumulated thus far and explore avenues for refining and enhancing existing practices within the realm of food safety. My pursuit also involves seeking opportunities to expand my understanding further, with the intention of making substantial contributions to the field.

Furthermore, the intricacies of our focus, particularly on raw foods, make the challenge quite formidable. Raw food consumption indeed poses a considerable risk to our gastrointestinal well-being, potentially leading to various illnesses. This becomes even more concerning when we think about the vulnerability of children. The impact on their health can be severe, potentially resulting in malnutrition or hindrances in their overall development.

My aspiration is to contribute to this field, potentially within the public sector or by collaborating with relevant organizations, should the opportunity arise. My motivation is rooted in the desire to play a part in ensuring that safe and nourishing food is accessible to all. This personal commitment stems from my own experiences of falling ill due to unsafe food. These experiences have provided me with a firsthand understanding of the intricacies involved in food processing and the potential problems it can pose to our health.

Valeria Mendoza is a program assistant with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety and is pursuing a degree in Food Science at Purdue University.

By Valeria Mendoza

Purushottam (Puru) Dhungana, a graduate student in agribusiness at Tennessee State University, (TSU) brings a rich academic background to his work with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety project in Nepal. In this interview, we delve into Puru’s journey from Pokhara, Nepal to TSU, his unique insights into the field of agricultural marketing, and the potential impact of his research on food safety practices.

What is your focus within agribusiness?

My current research interests primarily revolve around agricultural marketing and experimental economics. My thesis is centered on agricultural marketing, with the title ‘Choice of Marketing Channel Constraints and Financial Implications on Smallholder Farmers in Tennessee.’ Additionally, I have an interest in international economics, particularly in the areas of international trade, development, and monetary economics. However, at present, my research predominantly encompasses agriculture, marketing, experimental economics, and regional economics.

What inspired you to study economics and get involved in the food safety project in Nepal?

My interest in agriculture, economics, and finance began during my undergraduate studies at Agriculture and Forestry University in Nepal. It all blossomed with my introduction to agricultural economics. I realized that there was room for improvement in the economics of developing countries, particularly Nepal, specifically concerning their marketing practices. In Nepal, the marketing infrastructure isn’t as advanced as it could be, and I felt a strong desire to contribute to its enhancement.

Currently, my advisor is involved in the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety project in Nepal, which also aligns with my passion. This project focuses on improving food safety practices among both consumers and producers, with the goal of minimizing microbial and chemical contamination in raw food items like salad vegetables. I find this area of study highly engaging because it involves the application of mathematics, which is another field I’m passionate about. In essence, I’m drawn to this field because of its potential for meaningful impact and the opportunity to combine my interests in agriculture, economics, and mathematics.

Could you share some of the trends and challenges in your research, and how you envision your research addressing these challenges?

At present, my thesis research revolves around the selection of marketing channels and their potential impact on smallholder farmers. This research carries significant potential benefits for smallholder farmers in Tennessee. We anticipate that our findings will offer valuable insights that policymakers can review and utilize to enhance their policies, thereby directly improving the financial well-being of smallholder farmers in Tennessee.

As for my research with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety, Dr. Khanal and the team are currently leading a project that focuses on research conducted in Nepal. Specifically, we’ve conducted a comprehensive food safety survey in Nepal, which captures both the producer and consumer perspectives. This survey aims to gauge their food safety awareness and their willingness to invest in food safety practices. We’ve received a substantial number of responses, and our primary objective is to understand their readiness to adopt food safety practices.

How do you envision the research conducted by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for influencing and benefiting Nepal?

In Nepal, a prevalent practice is the sale of raw vegetables and fruits without conducting tests for microbial and chemical pesticide residue. The outcomes of our survey hold significant implications for various stakeholders, including potential entrepreneurs and government officials. These findings can offer insights into the consumer’s willingness to pay for safer food . Ultimately, this data will inform decision-makers about whether consumers are ready to bear higher prices for safer food options.

What is your hypothesis regarding consumer behavior? Do you believe consumers will be willing to pay a premium for food safety assurance?

In major cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara in Nepal, I believe consumers are more inclined to pay a premium for food safety. This is because there are frequent incidents of food safety issues, including cases of food-borne illnesses.  Given the health risks associated with unsafe food, I think many people in these cities would be willing to invest a few extra bucks each month for the peace of mind that comes with consuming safe vegetables and produce.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

At present, I would like to pursue a Ph.D. I am interested in the fields of applied economics and international development. While my master’s degree provides a broad foundation, I aspire to specialize further and engage in more targeted research.

Valeria Mendoza is a program assistant with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety and is pursuing a degree in Food Science at Purdue University.




As someone who has spent time in both the public and private sectors, Ram Hari Timilsina understands that academia has much to learn from industry — and particularly the farmers themselves — when it comes to agricultural innovation.

He specializes in agricultural extension, which takes knowledge gained through research and brings it directly to farmers and local communities to improve their productivity, food security, and livelihoods. Often, entities from the public sector, such as ministries and departments of agriculture or agricultural research centers, use extension to introduce farmers to new techniques and technologies, particularly in developing countries.

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By Amanda Garris

When Charles Bashiru Bakin conducted food safety audits of small businesses as a regulatory officer for Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority, he learned firsthand one of the core dilemmas in food safety: Where do you start, and why?

“Food safety decisions tend to be really complex, because food safety is a big issue,” says Bakin. “How to make these decisions is often a bit challenging. Where do you allocate resources, finances, and personnel?”

He also glimpsed a possible solution in the large amounts of data collected by regulatory agencies during inspections, investigations of consumer complaints, and food safety surveillance activities. He wondered if these data could be leveraged to identify priority steps in the food system where better practices would have the greatest impact.

“Data is constantly being generated from the food system,” says Bakin. “I wanted to know how we can engage in the analysis of all this data to provide an information basis on which food safety regulatory agencies or food companies can make decisions.”

Today, Bakin is a Ph.D. student at The Ohio State University (OSU) and helping to implement a data-driven approach to reducing foodborne pathogens in poultry raised by female and youth farmers in Kenya. In the Chakula Salama project—which means “safe food” in Kiswahili—researchers at OSU, the Kenya Medical Research Institute, and the University of Nairobi are using data analytics and risk analysis to reduce foodborne illness in this dietary staple. Because of the demographics of small-scale poultry production, the project is also poised to support entrepreneurship among women.

“Poultry farming is quite big in Kenya, and very often it’s women who are engaged in poultry farming, because of the quick turnaround,” he says. “You find that a lot of women pick it up as a source of income.”

The farmers in Kenya face the same food safety challenges that impact poultry farmers around the world. Threats include Salmonella, which is the leading cause of death from foodborne disease in Africa, and Campylobacter, considered to be the most common bacterial cause of human gastroenteritis. Bakin and colleagues hope that by helping farmers strengthen food safety practices, they can prevent those illnesses and empower female farmers as food-safety champions and entrepreneurs. And although Bakin finds himself with the same question—where to start— this time, the data is leading the way.

The first step is assessing the prevalence of foodborne pathogens that are occurring with farmers’ existing practices, a project for the team this summer and fall. After the implementation of risk-based interventions which were selected collaboratively during a three-day risk-ranking workshop with producers and researchers, the assessment will be repeated to determine how effective the interventions are.

“Basically, if the interventions are effective, we will see a decline in the prevalence and the concentrations of these pathogens in the poultry,” says Bakin.

Effective data-driven food safety practices and policies will position the work to be scaled up in other locales. In addition to this focus on food safety on small farms, Bakin will be using data to understand the level of risk across Kenya’s poultry production, processing, transport, and marketing networks to locate the key contamination points affecting consumers’ risk of foodborne disease.

“We will conduct a risk assessment to estimate the risk associated with the consumption of food,” he says. “For example, anytime you eat unsafe food, you could either fall sick, and if you fall sick, you might just have some minor abdominal pain or throw up, or in the worst-case scenario, you could end up in a hospital or die as a result.”

“We are using mathematical models to assess risk across the entire value chain of food products, from farm to fork,” he explains. “We are modeling what the outcomes would be in terms of microbial growth, or microbial inactivation along this process, including steps like cold chain and transportation to markets. With risk assessment, we can answer the question, if you could implement an intervention along the value chain, where would it have the most impact?”

Amanda Garris is a communications specialist with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety.

Categorizing Purdue University animal science graduate student Leah Thompson is a challenging proposition.

“I joke that I’m grossly mislabeled, because I’m an animal scientist working on a project in Cambodia that is all about vegetables,” she says.

Furthermore, her role in that project largely focuses on understanding women’s roles, knowledge and attitudes about food safety. This pivot was spurred by an offer from Purdue Professor of Animal Sciences—and her former undergraduate advisor—Paul Ebner to return to Purdue to pursue a Ph.D. focused on international food safety research and outreach. Ebner had recently been named co-Principal Investigator (PI) on a project funded by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety (FSIL) to reduce foodborne illness spread by vegetables sold through traditional markets in Cambodia.

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Every class taught by Andrea Bersamin, professor in the Department of Biology and Wildlife at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, begins with a rundown of her favorite childhood reading materials.

At a young age, she begged her mother for a subscription to Bon Appétit, a monthly cooking and culinary arts magazine, and had a unique fascination with the world’s best-selling medical textbook, the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. She and her sister reveled in a series of detective books, which instructed the reader on how to become a skilled sleuth.

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