Researchers and experts drawn from the food industry in Kenya are working towards developing smart food packaging that can detect spoilage and disease-causing microbes. The move, they believe, would ensure consumers continue accessing safe and nutritious foods, especially during this threatening era of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Besides the smart packaging, the food industry is also working on convenient, environmentally friendly packaging that would prevent food loss, as well as utilization of block chain technology to track food distribution processes from the producer to consumer which would be instrumental in tracking sources of contamination.
Other trends being considered include, the use of non-conventional bioresources such as algae, mushrooms, insects to boost bioactive compounds in food.
These were the key highlights during the 15th informative and interactive Webinar Series hosted by the Directorate of Research and Innovations at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) on Wednesday, September 29, 2021.
According to Dr. John Kinyuru, a food and nutrition expert at JKUAT, recent studies carried out in Nairobi, Kenya, during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a 10 per cent decline in the consumption of healthy foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products. This was partly due to fear of contamination during the fresh foods handling process in the markets.
“In light of the COVID- 19 pandemic, it is imperative to innovate within the various key dimensions of the food systems such as capitalizing on immune boosting foods and enhancing food safety so as to counter the current threats to the sustainable development goals on zero hunger and health well-being for all,” said Dr. Kinyuru, adding, “This includes the prevention of communicable diseases such as the COVID-19 which may be transmitted through food handling.”
Speaking during the webinar, Mr. Joseph Choge, Chief Executive Officer Premier Food Industries Limited, Kenya, explained how the company had leveraged on locally available immune boosting nutraceuticals such as ginger, garlic, turmeric, honey to produce high demand products. One of these, he pointed out, has been recreating the popular local dawa into a ready to drink commercial product which has a stable shelf life and no added sugar. This innovation, he says, has been a silver lining behind this pandemic cloud.
“I am urging stakeholders not to hold back but instead find the opportunities in every adversity regardless of the uncertainties that plague the market. Innovations are eureka moments that can actually come amidst tough times like COVID-19,” advised Mr. Choge
Lauding the progressive gains made by both industry and academia in coming up with solutions, Prof. Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research, Production and Extension) called for more collaborations between researchers and the food industries in order to boost productivity, regrettably noting that some of the resources such as ginger are sourced abroad yet they can be produced locally with help from local researchers in horticulture.