The burden of foodborne illness from eating unsafe food poses a threat to the health of the East African Community’s 300 million inhabitants. ILRI, in partnership with the IUCEA, has developed undergraduate food safety curriculum benchmarks toward building the capacity of the region’s food safety professionals to ensure the production and sale of safe food and, ultimately, improved health and food security.
Food safety is critical for health, nutrition, and development. Formal and informal food businesses employ millions of people — many of them women — and can improve profits, reduce waste, and contribute to development goals when products are safe and of good quality.
But the burden associated with unsafe food is huge. Thirty-one priority food hazards caused 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths globally in 2010, resulting in a burden of 33 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) . Heavy metals caused an additional 1 million illnesses, over 56,000 deaths, and more than 9 million DALYs in 2015 . The annual health burden of foodborne disease is more than 42 million DALYs per year — comparable with that of tuberculosis or malaria.
Reflective of this concern, food safety is one of the key priorities of the CGIAR Initiative on One Health, which employs a holistic One Health approach to reduce antimicrobial resistance (AMR), improve food and water safety, and manage zoonotic diseases, leading to better human, animal, and environment health.
Africa has the highest per capita foodborne disease burden of any continent, and the East African Community is particularly affected. In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, the 2019 cost from loss of productivity due to foodborne diseases was estimated at $800 million, $600 million, and $400 million respectively . There are few food safety inspectors, and most of them are concentrated in the export and high-end food commodity markets, meaning local and more informal markets, where most of the population shops, are left largely unexamined . Food safety is also a critical component of enhancing fair trade and market access across the region, in accordance with the African Union Malabo Declaration’s goal of threefold growth in intra-African trade in agricultural commodities by 2025.
For the East African Community to lower the public health costs associated with foodborne disease, food safety professionals are urgently needed. But many tertiary institutes in the region have out-of-date curricula that are not tailored for local contexts and do not adequately cover the informal sector.
In this context, the IUCEA worked with ILRI and the FAO to develop curriculum benchmarks for a bachelor of science program in food safety to serve as a yardstick for curriculum developers in universities in the East African Community.
“ILRI and partners will implement a survey to assess the capability of universities to implement the food safety benchmarks and identify what support is needed to ensure the curriculum benchmarks are integrated into taught curricula. Building on this momentum, ILRI is working with IUCEA to develop the benchmarks for MSc of One Health.” – Hung Nguyen-Viet, scientist, International Livestock Research Institute
The IUCEA was uniquely placed for this task because it coordinates higher education and research for the East African Community, including developing curriculum benchmarks for tertiary education that set out core competencies that employers can expect all graduates to possess, ensuring that tertiary education is of satisfactory standard and aiding in student, graduate, and staff mobility.
To develop the benchmarks, ILRI collaborated with a technical working group of experts from universities in the East African Community partner states, while in-country stakeholders were engaged through an e-Delphi consultative approach.
The IUCEA ran the final review and validation, and the benchmarks were approved in 2022. The curriculum covers a wide range of subject areas, ranging from food microbiology and human anatomy to science communication, value chains, and climate change .
Building on this success, ILRI and partners will implement a survey to assess the capability of universities to implement the food safety benchmarks and identify what support is needed to ensure the curriculum benchmarks are integrated into curricula. This development supports the Food Safety Strategy for Africa 2022–2036. If adopted within IUCEA’s membership of 133 universities in East Africa alone, thousands of undergraduate students would have improved access to relevant and quality food safety education and be better equipped to contribute to food safety improvement in the region.
- Havelaar, A.H., Kirk, M.D., Torgerson, P.R., Gibb, H.J., Hald, T., Lake, R.J., Praet, N., Bellinger, D.C., de Silva, N.R., Gargouri, N., Speybroeck, N., Cawthorne, A., Mathers, C., Stein, C., Angulo, F.J. and Devleesschauwer, B., on behalf of World Health Organization Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group. 2015. World Health Organization global estimates and regional comparisons of the burden of foodborne disease in 2010. PLOS Medicine 12(12): e1001923.
- Gibb, H.J., Barchowsky, A., Bellinger, D., Bolger, P.M., Carrington, C., Havelaar, A.H., Oberoi, S., Zang, Y., O’Leary, K. and Devleesschauwer, B. 2019. Estimates of the 2015 global and regional disease burden from four foodborne metals – arsenic, cadmium, lead and methylmercury. Environmental Research 174: 188–194.
- Jaffee, S., Henson, S., Grace, D., Ambrosio, M. and Berthe, F. 2020. Why food safety matters to Africa: Making the case for policy action. In: Resnick, D., Diao, X. and Tadesse, G. (eds), Sustaining Africa’s agrifood system transformation: The role of public policies. ReSAKSS 2020 Annual Trends and Outlook Report. Washington, D.C. and Kigali, Rwanda: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and AKADEMIYA2063. pp. 112–129.
- Mutua, F., Masanja, H., Chacha, J., Kang’ethe, E., Kuboka, M. and Grace, D. 2021. A rapid review of foodborne disease hazards in East Africa. ILRI Discussion Paper 42. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.
- Kang’ethe, E.K., Mutua, F. and Hung Nguyen-Viet. 2022. Benchmarks for food safety curriculum in the East African Community. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.
Header photo: Fruit and vegetables on sale alongside other food items in a local market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Geraldine Klarenberg/ILRI