GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Taylor Langford spent her first trip outside the United States in Adama, Ethiopia training 20 veterinarians and butchers from across the country how to safely prepare meat for their customers and family members. This is one of many ways students in the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) are supporting global food security efforts.
The animal sciences master’s student accompanied faculty mentor Jason Scheffler, UF/IFAS animal sciences assistant professor, in his efforts to improve the nutrition, health, income and livelihood of vulnerable people in other countries. This project was conducted through a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) grant administered through the UF/IFAS Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems.
Ethiopia is one eight target countries of the livestock innovation lab, where faculty identify ways to improve food safety and hygiene practices within developing communities. The other countries are Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Kenya, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda and Uganda.
The workshop in Ethiopia was created to “train the trainers” so that the attendees can go out into their communities and share the food safety practices they learned. Scheffler plans to conduct follow-up visits to see the effectiveness of this training model.
“We need to be cognizant of other cultures and how recommended food safety practices can fit within their systems,” Scheffler said. “The goal is sustainable change and to provide incentives for these individuals to keep doing the safety practices we have taught.”
Part of Ethiopian cuisine is the consumption of raw meat in dishes such as kitfo, raw ground beef mixed with spices, and kurt, a raw sirloin in horseradish and pepper sauce.
“We did make some progress in conveying the importance of cooking meat for more vulnerable populations, such as small children and pregnant women,” Scheffler said. “One of the attendees who was a big proponent of raw meat came away from the training saying she wouldn’t eat raw meat anymore.”
A large part of the training was enabling attendees to become more familiar with the food supply chain and make the connection between the food they eat and sickness resulting from unsafe food handling. The training included a visit to an animal processing facility. Unprompted, the attendees shared with the facility owners the kinds of safety measures that could be improved upon, and the owners were receptive, said Langford.
Other recommendations Langford and Scheffler shared included the use of plastic cutting boards instead of wood for meat, separate cutting boards for meat and produce in the home, handwashing stations closer to the butcher station, and a division of labor between those cutting meat and those handling money.
Langford became interested in food safety initiatives after participating in a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) project last summer where she studied food-borne illnesses. This experience led her to work with Scheffler to help create the curriculum for the Ethiopian workshop participants.
“[Traveling to Ethiopia] was a humbling experience that has motivated me to continue to help others,” Langford said. “I was ignorant of cultural practices regarding foods in other countries. As Americans, we don’t fully understand all the effort and science that goes into food health and safety; we are extremely fortunate to have such safe food handling practices.”
Langford’s experience traveling abroad to provide international aid through food safety trainings is uncommon. In many cases, not enough funding exists to support the important work of both faculty members and students outside the country.
“This opportunity opened my eyes to how I can work internationally in a meat science career,” Langford said. “Experiences like these develop the next generation of policy makers and food scientists.”
If you would like to support CALS students working on projects like these, contact Christy Chiarelli, senior director of development and external affairs, at 352-273-0353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.