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Martin Wiedmann, the Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety and co-director of Cornell’s Food Safety Lab, speaks with Purdue University professors Suzanne Nielsen, left, and Haley Oliver, Ph.D. ’09, on Aug. 13 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Oliver will direct the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety, a collaboration between Cornell and Purdue.

Cornell partners with Purdue on global food safety

Foodborne illnesses affect 600 million people around the world each year, causing 420,000 deaths. According to the World Health Organization, more than a quarter of these deaths are children younger than 5.

Cornell is teaming with Purdue University – a partnership of land-grant universities from New York and Indiana – to establish the first Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety, which aims to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges in agriculture and food insecurity.

On Aug. 13, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a nearly $10 million award to Purdue, in collaboration with Cornell, to establish the lab on Purdue’s West Lafayette, Indiana, campus.

Cornell impacting New York State

The new food safety lab is the 23rd of the Feed the Future Innovation Labs, part of the federal government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Experts at top U.S. universities lead each lab, forming partnerships with other universities and research institutions in developing countries.

“To make an impact, we need to build an awareness and an understanding of what food safety is, so stakeholders are motivated to adopt behavior changes that result in decreased exposure to foodborne disease-causing agents,” said Haley Oliver, Ph.D. ’09, associate professor of food science at Purdue, who will serve as the lab’s director. “We will be working in developing economies that will benefit from food safety research at the household level.”

Additionally, Oliver said the team will work with stakeholders to improve policies and technologies that help food producers and processors reach bigger markets.

Randy Worobo, professor of food science at Cornell, will serve as associate director.

“Feeding the world’s growing population is a definitive, complex challenge of our time – one that requires inquiry and amplification from all sides,” Worobo said. “For that reason and more, our Cornell team is excited to partner with Purdue University in this new endeavor.”

Other members of the lab include Kathryn J. Boor ’80, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), and Martin Wiedmann, the Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety. Co-directors of the Food Safety Laboratory at Cornell, Boor and Wiedmann have extensive research experience with respect to the farm-to-table spread of bacteria and foodborne diseases.

“CALS’ unique mission as an Ivy League research university with a land-grant mission makes us ideally suited to partner with Purdue,” Boor said. “Collectively, the lab’s members have already worked on existing and emerging challenges in nutrition, food safety and security in over 25 countries, and we share a commitment to developing life-changing science that betters the world.”

Purdue’s other five lab members include experts in animal science, agricultural economics, international programs and agricultural sciences, education and communication.

While the Feed the Future Innovation Labs work extensively with more than a dozen target countries and regions, the new food safety lab will focus efforts in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal.

Since the U.S. Department of State launched the Feed the Future Initiative in May 2010, 23.4 million more people now live above the poverty line, and 5.2 million families are no longer suffering from hunger.

Jana Wiegand is the content manager at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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Lindsey Hadlock