In an ideal world, a farmer might sell a harvest of fresh produce to families nearby, who would eat that produce within the week.
The more common reality in South Africa and the world however, is that it can take up to three months or even more for food to travel from the farm to table.
“The longer this supply chain, the less control you have over the product and the harder it is to maintain quality and safety,” saysProf Lise Korsten, who leads thefood safety research programme at the DST/ NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, which is co-hosted by UP and the University of the Western Cape.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. But how do we know whether the food is safe from harmful pathogens?
“Our research helps ensure that fresh produce stays safe along that journey for as long as possible.” Korsten explains that many complex factors must be studied so that farmers, sellers, consumers, government and everyone in between have access to the best information available to make sure that food is safe to eat, wholesome and nutritious.
Broad questions UP researchers are investigating include: how regulators ensure that fruit and vegetables are free of potentially harmful pesticides, other agricultural chemicals and human and plant pathogens; how farmers can prevent contamination and reduce losses due to polluted water or human error; and, whether fresh produce from formal markets like retail stores are safer than fresh produce from informal traders.
Considerations like human health, plant diseases, legal frameworks and governance, says Korsten, mean that UP researchers approach food safety in a holistic, multi-disciplinary way.