Are you gonna eat that?
Food scientists from across the world gather at LAU for an international conference on food safety and security.
Dr. Michael Cammer (standing, left), assistant research scientist at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine in New York University, co-led a workshop on microscopy with Dr. Mirvat El Sibai, LAU assistant professor of biology, as part of the conference.
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Food scientists and researchers from universities across the world landed in Lebanon for a conference on “Research Trends in Food Safety and Security,” held from May 3-5 at LAU.
Organizers hope that bringing together key researchers for open discussions on the issue will lead to collaborative projects between institutions in the future as a first step to discovering solutions to health and socio-economic problems associated with food safety and security.
“This conference will alert all participants to the significance of food safety in general and to the critical situation of food safety in Lebanon in particular,” says Dr. Fuad Hashwa, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at LAU Byblos.
“The detailed discussions about local food quality and safety engaged all participants in fruitful discussion that will hopefully lead to the improvement of current practices and better food safety,” Hashwa adds.
Local representatives from the food industry and policy makers also participated in certain sessions of the conference, which was organized by the Department of Natural Sciences at LAU’s School of Arts & Sciences and took place on the Beirut and Byblos campuses.
“It is very important that academia and industry come together. We believe that this will be of mutual benefit to both,” said Dr. Ahmad Kabbani, chair of the LAU Beirut’s Natural Sciences Department, in his speech at the event’s opening.
Kabbani added that Lebanese laws should be modernized to enforce the hiring of more microbiologists in food industries for quality control.
“We cannot leave it haphazard and random,” he said. “We have to respect the credentials of our young graduates. They are the best protectors of our safety; they are the promise of this country.”
Topics of the conference included food safety microbiology, food toxicology, post-harvest physiology of fruits and vegetables, global issues for food security and safety, nutrition and physiology, food health benefits, and anti-tumor effect of food components.
During the conference opening at the Beirut campus, Atef Idriss, the CEO of MENA Food Safety Associates (MEFOSA), which provides consulting and training services to help food companies establish safety and quality procedures, spoke of a regional food crisis.
He said: “MENA is one of the highest food deficit regions of the world. When it comes to food trade, we are importing in excess of $50 billion of food each year, the highest per capita in the world.”
Fuad Fleifel, the general director of the Office of Consumer Protection at the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade, said during the opening that one of his top priorities is to restore public confidence in food safety — a confidence, he said, that has been tarnished over the years by conflict.
“Consumers have the right to be told the truth about their food,” Fleifel said. He assured that “food policy always has food safety as primary objective. No [private interest] is allowed to jeopardize that objective.”
The technical sessions started with a keynote address by Dr. Glenn Young, a professor of food safety from the University of California, Davis. Food safety, he said, is about real and perceived risks.
The risks start on the farm, through the practices of cultivating fruits and vegetables and raising livestock. Then, they are in the hands of transporters, before making their way to consumers whose behavior also affects the food safety risks.
Professor Young said that more people die from foodborne illness than other major illnesses combined.
“If we consider the world population, more people die of diarrheal disease infection than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined,” he said. “This is why food safety really should be taken more seriously.”
The event included two workshops, the first on May 3 led by Dr. Marita Cantwell from UC Davis on “Successful Postharvest Handling of Vegetables” at LAU Beirut, followed by a two-part workshop on May 4 at LAU Byblos, and May 7 at the American University of Beirut’s Medical School, on “Advances in Microscopy in the Field of Molecular Biology.”
The latter of the two workshops was organized by Dr. Mirvat El Sibai, assistant professor of biology at LAU, who co-led it with Dr. Michael Cammer, assistant research scientist at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine in New York University.
The second day of the conference in Byblos coincided with the biology and biomedical sciences poster conference presented by LAU students.
For more information about the conference, visit its website.