WEST LAFAYETTE - Purdue University has unveiled a new lab designed to increase awareness and develop environments for food safety. The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded the university nearly $10 million to establish the first Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety. Associate Professor of Food Science Haley Oliver will direct the lab in collaboration with Cornell University and says the goal is to train domestic and global graduate students in research to develop the next generation of food scientists and agriculturalists that understand the challenges of food safety. 

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business Reporter Mary-Rachel Redman, Oliver says Purdue was chosen out of several other institutions to house the lab.

"I think it does come down to our experiences, our choices in partners, our lean design and just that depth of experience," said Oliver. "We have true commitment at Purdue to agriculture in the state, agriculture in the United States, and then to the world. We understand the role that food and food safety and food security can play in global peace, frankly, and we are committed to seeing that we can do our part in food safety to make sure that we all have a better way of life."

Purdue says scientists at the lab will develop programs to improve food safety in Bangladesh, Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal, and Cambodia. Oliver says while the word "lab" is in the title, there isn't a physical laboratory. Rather, it consists of places throughout the world where researchers and scientists can work with university partners to advance food safety.

"We'll have graduate students being trained in these research projects, both that are happening on campus here at Purdue and also in-country. This is a five-year investment from the U.S. state department and at a minimum, we know we'll be training at least nine master's students."

Purdue says it does have the opportunity to secure up to $20 million in additional funding from USAID for research tailored to the needs of specific countries. The FSIL will look to achieve four main initiatives in the first five years.

  • Improving awareness of the need for food safety measures
  • Supporting local research on food safety issues
  • Building policy and engagement efforts to disseminate information about food safety research
  • Developing best practices that can be used by households, communities and commercial stakeholders

Bonnie Glick, deputy administrator for USAID, tells Inside INdiana Business the agency hopes to see improved and enhanced food safety for food systems throughout the world. 

"Purdue will be generating intellectual ideas and inventions and innovations coming out of here in Indiana that can be applied both to problems around the world as well as for solutions here at home that can be invested in here in the United States to help enhance our own food safety, which sometimes we take for granted," said Glick. "Purdue will just help us make ourselves better at it."

Purdue cites statistics from the World Health Organization, which says foodborne illnesses affect 600 million people worldwide each year, causing 420,000 deaths.

The FSIL is the third Feed the Future Innovation Lab housed at Purdue. The university is also home to the Feed the Future Innovation Labs for Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling. Feed the Future is the global hunger and food security initiative for the U.S. government.