Food for Thought: Contaminants in Groundnuts (Peanuts)
The groundnut, or peanut, has been a culturally significant crop for hundreds of years. Raw or roasted, shelled or unshelled, peanuts are used for consumption among the world’s population. Groundnuts are widely grown throughout the tropics and subtropics, being important to both small and large commercial producers. In Senegal, groundnuts play a significant role as one of the main agricultural food sources and cash crops. The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety (FSIL) recently funded a research collaboration between Purdue University and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA). The project aims to identify the extent of microbial and fungal contaminants in groundnuts that are produced and consumed by Senegalese households. These contaminants, namely aflatoxins and bacterial pathogens, are associated with health issues ranging from food poisoning to liver cancer. Because groundnuts are a main food source, understanding the extent of contamination as well as cost-effective interventions to control these hazards is critical to the Senegalese population. The research conducted through this collaboration will help to improve the safety and quality of groundnuts produced by farmers in Senegal.
In February 2020, Purdue researchers Dr. Jonathan Bauchet, assistant professor in the Department of Hospitality and Tourism, and Yurani Arias Granada, PhD student in Agricultural Economics, worked alongside Dr. Ibrahima Sarr, head of entomology research at ISRA to survey groundnut farmers and collect samples for testing of biological and chemical contaminants. The researchers were able to survey 250 groundnut farmers throughout the South Peanut Basin of Senegal before the project was paused due to COVID-19 restrictions. Preliminary findings show that only 20% of Senegalese groundnut farmers are aware of aflatoxins and other contaminants. Furthermore, of that 20%, less than half implement any food safety measures.
There are many unique challenges in cross-cultural research collaborations,” says Yurani Arias Granada, PhD student in Agricultural Economics at Purdue University "It was interesting to learn that there is no easy way to translate [from French to Wolof or other local languages] specific hazards such as aflatoxins, or bacterial pathogens like E. coli, coliforms and salmonella in Senegal, providing an initial indication that there may be low awareness on foodborne diseases and food safety.”
Groundnut samples collected from producers’ households during the survey were tested for aflatoxins by scientists at ISRA. Microbiological testing of the same sample set is now being conducted in a Purdue Food Science laboratory. Brianna Britton, Purdue University Food Science graduate student, has been working to test levels of contaminants in each sample. She has found high variability across the samples tested thus far. “There has been a very wide range,” says Brianna Britton, “and we’re still working on processing the samples. Then we will begin to observe how it correlates with storage practices and producer knowledge of microbiological contamination.”
This FSIL funded project has been a strong example of cross-cultural teamwork and leveraging current and past USAID investments. The project successfully launched within the FSIL’s first year thanks to existing partnerships in the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling (FPIL) and their previous studies on aflatoxins in maize. The FSIL has expanded the research by focusing on groundnuts in Senegal and adding an emphasis on biological contaminants. Once completed, results of the study will be published and shared through the FSIL website and Agrilinks. By better understanding the extent of microbial and fungal contamination of groundnuts in Senegal, we aim to promote evidence-based prioritization of foodborne disease interventions. Project partners ultimately hope to improve producer and consumer awareness of food safety. Future projects can implement effective food safety interventions in groundnut production promoting the consumption of safe and nutritious food.