KENYA – Kenyan researchers are spearheading an initiative to enhance food safety practices among small and midsize poultry enterprises that supply Nairobi’s burgeoning population.

With foodborne illnesses costing the Kenyan economy an estimated one billion U.S. dollars annually, addressing food safety in the poultry sector is critical due to its impact on public health, economic productivity, and food security.

The poultry value chain plays a crucial role in addressing hunger and poverty in Kenya, where undernutrition rates are high and the population-environment balance is delicate.

Professor Catherine Kunyanga, Associate Professor and Associate Dean at the University of Nairobi, and Dr. Robert Onsare, Principal Research Scientist and Acting Deputy Director for the One Health Approach Research Program at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, are leading the project.

“Women and youth have recently adopted poultry business in many parts of the country as a quick source of income and livelihood,” said Kunyanga.

“It is profitable and provides a good source of animal-based protein, ensuring household nutrition security in Kenya.”

Chicken products offer high-quality nutrients for vulnerable populations, but contamination with bacterial foodborne pathogens remains a global challenge.

Recently, Kenya has seen an increase in foodborne illnesses from Salmonella and Campylobacter, raising concerns about public health and antibiotic resistance.

The new project, funded by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety, aims to fill knowledge gaps and develop a training program for small-scale poultry enterprises.

The research team is employing three strategies to build a foundation for safer poultry. They are conducting microbiological surveys to assess current contamination levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter, utilizing whole genome sequencing to precisely characterize bacterial isolates in the value chain, and analyzing the roles and food safety risks faced by men, women, and youth in poultry production.

The primary objective of the microbial survey is to provide baseline data on the prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination in the poultry value chain.

Testing will occur at critical points along the chicken production chain in Kiambu County, including farms, transport/aggregation service providers, and butcheries.

Whole genome sequencing will be used to genetically characterize the pathogens, focusing on their ability to cause foodborne diseases, including virulence factors and antimicrobial resistance genes.

“We expect that the baseline assessments will provide crucial data to assist national and county governments, farmers, researchers, poultry businesses, food safety regulators, and other stakeholders in prioritizing food safety intervention efforts, training programs, research needs, and policy development,” said Onsare.

“The project outcomes could be scaled up across Kenya and applied globally in similar production systems.”

Simultaneously, the team will analyze the roles and food safety risks faced by men, women, and youth in poultry production.

Smallholder poultry production is a key enterprise among low-income households, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas, where women and youth are heavily involved.

“Our preliminary data show that women and youth have limited knowledge of safe poultry production, making them more vulnerable to foodborne pathogens and illnesses,” said Kunyanga.

“The findings will be used to design interventions that empower and build the capacity of women and youth in food safety through training in best practices, supporting food security, increased market access, and profitability.”

The project’s findings, along with input from farmers, market operators, regulators, and other researchers, will be used to develop a Best Management Practices training program. This program aims to help the workforce understand microbial food safety risks and implement practices to reduce microbial pathogens throughout the poultry value chain.

The project will culminate in a pilot training program on food safety practices, including a training manual and local workshops.

“I hope this project will lead to increased food safety awareness among poultry farmers and other stakeholders in Kenya, reducing the prevalence of foodborne pathogen contamination along the poultry production line,” said Onsare.

“This will lead to safer food and healthier populations.”

For all the latest food safety news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.