Food safety research, challenges and cooperative extension were the topics that Professors Cathy Strohbehn and Lakshman Rajagopal shared with faculty staff members and postgraduate students attending the mini symposium on Food Safety Challenges and Opportunities during the last week of February.
The mini-symposium was hosted by the Department of Consumer Science and, the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being (IFNuW).
Prof Cathy Strohbehn is an extension specialist and Hospitality Management Professor at Iowa State University (ISU), Ames, USA, who has received several accolades for international collaboration in recent years. She shared her valuable expertise regarding extension and outreach in the USA which is a tax supported entity to provide credible useful and relevant information to consumers and practitioners. This is done by the Nutrition and Wellness Team that provides food safety resources and training to the retail, local food systems and school health in close collaboration with state agency and trade association partners.
Prof Lakshman Rajagopal, also from Iowa State University, shared various examples of food safety research done in the foodservice field in the USA and at ISU. He provided meaningful inputs and accentuated the fact that building on existing research projects created an opportunity for new topics such as the handling of leafy greens in different foodservice environments and thereafter developing visually-based training materials to train foodservice workers in other languages.
The role of IFNuW was highlighted by Prof Sheryl Hendriks who also endorsed the Food Safety thematic area which was further supported by various presentations from faculty members from the Departments of Consumer Science, Microbiology and Food Science.
An overview of food safety in South Africa was presented by Prof Lise Korsten. The institutional gap in food safety was highlighted. Various Institutional Research Theme projects in the different departments were discussed and the research opportunities and possible collaboration highlighted. Prof Elna Buys of the Department of Food Science accentuated the fact the food safety research in South Africa was essential to validate food safety processes and systems in South Africa. Dr Gerrie du Rand reported on a study regarding consumers’ perceptions of food safety as it relates to fresh produce in both the formal and informal sectors.
Professors Strohbehn and Rajagopal were visiting UP as an outcome of the Memorandum of Understanding that UP shares with ISU. Iowa State University has longstanding ties with the Department of Consumer Science at UP and collaborates on various initiatives and research projects including staff and student exchange thus strengthening the international profile of UP. Although some of their colleagues have visited UP before, this is the first visit of these two scholars to South Africa, and they welcomed the opportunity to share their expertise regarding food safety and research with staff, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Department of Consumer Science. In addition to various information sharing sessions within the Department of Food Science, the visitors also visited the student residences and the Foodservices of UP at TUKS MONATE. Mr Hennie Fisher and the final year Hospitality Management students also presented a special four-course vegetarian dinner to honour the ISU guests. The menu for this event featured dishes that celebrated various South African cultures while showcasing some of our indigenous flora in ground-breaking new ways, using ingredients specifically sourced from UP’s own herb garden.
The ISU visitors were also treated to a visit to a large retailer to gain an understanding of how logistics and safety procedures are applied in the South African context. Their visit culminated with a visit to a small artisanal cheese farm outside Delmas.
The knowledge and expertise that Professors Strohbehn and Rajagopal shared with UP staff and students in outreach and extension, food safety and work in local foods will serve us well, and promises great potential to unlock new research opportunities and further collaboration between our two institutions.
Let us afford our visitors the last word: “After wrapping up our first trip to South Africa and the University of Pretoria, we both come away with a sense that our two institutions have many similarities. The exchange was very useful not only in terms of professional development, but also personally gratifying. A continuation of relationships with you and other UP staff was facilitated by having the opportunity for face to face discussions. Thank you seems an inadequate expression of our appreciation; please recognize we value your friendship and collaboration.”