Penn State University, Meru University of Science and Technology, and Meru County in Kenya have entered a partnership to advance food safety in Kenya through research. The collaboration also includes the Technical University of Denmark.

The partnership will focus on working with collaborators in Kenya to provide solutions to important issues they have identified. Meru University academics originated the foundational research ideas of the project.

The three main research topics are foodborne pathogens, especially those found in meat and milk products; zoonotic diseases in Meru; and food quality and safety of meat and milk products, which align with the strengths and interests of faculty in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Researchers will examine the incidence of and risk factors for foodborne illnesses associated with meat and milk products in Meru, identify the most common products linked to foodborne illnesses, and determine milk and meat contamination hazards.

Additionally, because, an increase of interactions between humans and animals interactions can boost the risk of infectious diseases spreading from animals to humans, the collaborators will examine to what extent human-animal interactions are causing disease in Meru. Although foodborne pathogens likely cause considerable disease in Meru County, there is limited understanding of specific microbial causes, treatment outcomes, and health care costs. Therefore, considering Meru’s agricultural community, zoonotic diseases of animal origin are an important consideration, especially in the context of climate change.

Finally, researchers will analyze food safety practices among farmers, handlers, and vendors in the milk and meat supply chain in Meru, as well as the distribution of different types of pathogens that are found in milk and meat products. Factors contributing to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in pathogens found in milk and meat products will also be explored.

The collaboration originated two years ago when an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Food Science at Penn State, while in Kenya, had several conversations with Meru residents who asked for help discerning if unexplained local illnesses were associated with food. A Meru farmer also wondered whether spoiled food and poor distribution methods were contributing to food insecurity in the area.

Meru University informs the collaborators’ research by assessing the needs of Meru residents. The partnership also has a mentoring aspect, with faculty from Penn State providing training and professional development to the faculty at Meru University of Science and Technology, such as a recent workshop on molecular methods for pathogen detection. Students at Penn State will also collaborate with students in Meru as part of the project.