Improving food safety is a global challenge and every day innovative solutions are being developed and applied to make food safer around the world. However, not enough of these innovations have been applied in traditional food markets in LMICs where they’re needed the most. To address this gap, the EatSafe Innovation Challenge has identified categories all along the food supply chain that have a number of food safety challenges and are inviting you (academics, entrepreneurs, and other innovators in Nigeria and Ethiopia) to submit concepts that modify existing food safety tools or present new innovations that improve food safety for use by consumers and vendors in traditional food markets.
Peer learning platforms
Innovations in this category should provide a channel for consumers to receive/share food safety information or provide feedback (to businesses and with peers), as appropriate to the local context. Tools should situate food safety concepts within the context of lived social and cultural experiences. Innovations specific to food safety hazards and/or a management framework tied to the specific food environment will be considered. Innovations should prioritize the provision of resources that align with the food safety needs, demand, and capacities of the target population, and innovations that can be adapted over time as the landscape of need evolves (true for all innovation categories). For consumer-facing apps and resources, in some cases it may be effective to include food safety (information, skill sharing, behavioral nudges, access to resources/help) within or in conjunction with topics that already hold attention, e.g. children’s health, family budget, good housekeeping.
Many processing activities focus primarily on transforming a raw or unrefined food into a product that meets a demand in the market. However, some processing methods can contribute to food safety risks if not managed properly. Under this category, we are looking for innovations in processing that enhance food safety. To be considered, processing innovations should provide food safety improvements that are also cost effective and still meet the existing demand (innovation that drastically changes the produce, e.g. a dried vs. a fresh product should undergo a more thorough assessment of demand and willingness to pay). To illustrate improvements, processing innovations for food safety must be able to transform a potentially unsafe food, or unsafe parts of foods, into products (food or otherwise) that are safe, or make the product less vulnerable to hazards in subsequent stages (e.g. via reducing moisture, coating, packaging, etc.). Processing innovations that capture or divert unsafe or contaminated food waste can enhance value while also reducing the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of disease; these would also mitigate equity issues by not creating a market for unsafe food for low-income groups. Processing includes preservation (i.e. drying, fermenting, etc.) stages, which may delay spoilage and enhance the profitability of food production. Processing innovations should also illustrate that they can be done in a way that the nutritional value (content, bioavailability, etc.) of the food is not compromised to make it safer.
Food waste technology
Tackling food waste is a global challenge and there are many new innovations being used or tested to address the various problems. Under this category, we’re looking for food waste innovations that specifically work to enhance food safety or detect food safety risks in upcycled food for traditional markets. Food waste, either discarded/spoiled food products or the inedible/unsellable parts of raw foods, can have varying levels of “safety,” depending on the product, and may have varying propensities for upcycling depending on the type of hazard. For example, while some microbial hazards can be effectively neutralized through processing, other hazards, such as some chemicals, may not. Innovations should consider which waste stream(s) are likely to yield consistent and sufficient levels of up-cyclable waste and should also be sensitive to the ways in which hazards can and cannot be changed during processing step(s). The viability of the business model, in addition to technical viability, is key to success: if there is no demand for the upcycled product, there is no sustainability.
Sensors for food safety assessment
Under this category, we are looking for sensor innovations that can detect hazard(s), such as chemicals or microbials, or, alternatively, the symptoms of contamination (i.e. turgor, color, density, etc.) in LMICs. Spectral signatures (hyperspectral, multispectral, etc.) and other high-tech sensors show promise, but can be cost-prohibitive in resource-poor settings. Innovations should strike an appropriate balance between precision and field-applicability, given local constraints and the hazards of interest. With sensor technology, whose output is data, the key questions are — what decisions are made based on the data? What problem would the data solve? Are the data used at all?). The sensor technology is often the easy part to solve; the data pipeline and use context, and who wants to pay for the data, are most often the limiting factors for adoption. Alignment with national regulations (or international, in case of export) and compatibility with existing workflows is also key to adoption.
Retailing and packaging
Under this category, we’re looking for innovations that enhance food safety in retail or packaging of nutritious foods. For example, packaging, labels or vending machines can convey information about the product, including safety information and handling instructions. Leveraging this channel for information sharing and/or behavior change nudges is advised. Attention should be paid to not creating new food safety issues while trying to solve others (e.g. a vending machine would require thorough and frequent cleaning; in the absence of a sustainable maintenance business model, product safety could decrease). Any information communicated via packaging (including smart packages) should be appropriate to the education level and culture of the consumer population. Coating innovations (or in general approaches that add a chemical/material to a product should undergo both safety assessment and a consumer perception assessment (e.g. a coating could be perceived as “dangerous chemicals added”).
Urban to rural linkages and food logistics
Under this category, we are looking for innovations that enable more efficient communication between urban demand and rural supply. It is important to consider the incentive structures (including supply-demand economics) that dictate that movement of food between rural and urban sectors. If food logistics systems are responsive only to quantity, instead of quality, the transport and storage of food may be inadequate to preserve freshness and maintain appropriate levels of safety prior to reaching the market. Innovations might consider re-imagining or de-centralizing traditionally inaccessible food safety-promoting technologies, such as cold storage, refrigerated trucks, or quality control systems. Innovations might also bring safety-relevant value-addition steps closer to the production context by building up entrepreneurship opportunities and enabling urban-rural stakeholder partnerships. There can be opportunities to include traceability and transparency (e.g. consumer knows which farm the product is from) aspects, which are generally advantageous to food safety and may offer channels for consumer demand to be expressed.
Platforms for supply chain management
Under this category, we are looking for innovations that increase operational efficiency of food production/processing that would add clear value to businesses and include food safety operations (e.g. built-in cleaning schedules; reminders of processing parameters such as temperature, time, concentration of cleaning agent; easy protocols to troubleshoot issues). A key aspect here is the appropriateness of the technology to the context, e.g. in terms of component acquisition/production, maintenance, and repair of the technology; training and interpretation needs; any perverse incentive (e.g. counterfeit tags); and usefulness of the data and skills/resources needed to use the data.