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Various academics, staff members, family and friends of the University formed part of the inaugural lecture to commemorate the ascension of Professor Oluwatosin Ademola Ijabadeniyi to the position of full professor, last Thursday, 18 November 2021, virtually on Microsoft Teams and physically at the Ritson Hotel School, Ritson Campus.

Prof Ijabadeniyi is a C2 rated NRF Research Scientist in the Department of Biotechnology and Food Science, at the Durban University of Technology (DUT).

He recently edited a textbook titled: Food Science and Technology: Trends and Future Prospects. He is also the author of five inspirational books. Some of the studies he has completed include Food and Health Entrepreneurship, Sustainable Business Strategy and Disruptive Strategy. Prof Oluwatosin has published several articles in peer-reviewed journals and has also been a recipient of many research grants, the most recent being NRF’s Research and Technology Fund 2021.

Prof Ijabadeniyi, who started Food Safety Africa (an initiative that advances food safety in Africa by raising awareness about food safety risks and control), was appointed in 2019 as a visiting professor at Department of Food Science, University of Manitoba, Canada.

His research findings have revealed that some ready-to-eat foods constitute a public health risk. He has used many antimicrobials-including chemical sanitisers, lactic acid bacteria, ultrasound and bacteriophage etc. to control persistent pathogens in food. His work has brought to the fore, the intricate relationship between public health and sustainable food safety systems.

Delivering opening remarks at the auspicious occasion was Professor Kugenthiren Perumal of the Department of Biotechnology and Food Science, Faculty of Applied Sciences, who also served as the Programme Director of the event.

He welcomed all the esteemed guests in attendance who were DUT’s Chancellor, Ms Nonkululeko Nyembezi, Chair of Council, Mr Wiseman Madinane, ViceChancellor and Principal Professor Thandwa Mthembu, Research, Innovation and Engagement. Prof Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Prof Nokuthula Sibiya, the Executive Dean in the Faculty of Applied Sciences, Prof Suren Singh, and Head of Department of Biotechnology and Food Science: Prof Feroz Mahomed Swalaha.

“A warm welcome also, and thanks to members of the live audience here at the DUT Ritson Hotel School, also to distinguished guests, colleagues in the online audience, and proud family and friends of Prof Ijabadeniyi here in the venue as well as in various parts of the world.  I’m going to unashamedly say that three of the six inaugural lectures this year have been from the Department of Biotechnology and Food Science. Even more impressive is that roughly about 30% of all inaugural’s at DUT have come from our department,” he said.

He further relayed that this is the opportunity for a newly minted professor to come onto this public stage and share with colleagues, friends and family and the public at large, the research that he’s done over the years. Prof Perumal added that in the age of electronic storage, these addresses will remain in the public arena for a long time.

He then introduced Prof Nokuthula Sibiya who delivered the opening remarks.

“This prestigious achievement of professorship is awarded to the academics who demonstrate excellence and scholarship on teaching, research. innovation and engagement. Prof Ijabadeniyi, you are being rewarded for your unrelenting dedication and hard work. I am confident that you will inspire emerging academics to succeed in their academic journey,” she said.

Sharing on the research journey undertaken by Prof Ijabadeniyi was HOD of Biotechnology and Food Science: Prof Swalaha, who said that Prof Ijabadeniyi has pioneered some of the research in the study of the prevalence of foodborne pathogens in food sold, especially at retail outlets and those consumed in households.

He further conveyed that his interests also lie in improving the quality of indigenous fermented foods which led him to an international collaboration with the Russian Academy of Science to study African and Russian fermented foods.

Prof Swalaha expressed Prof Ijabadeniyi also has a passion for capacity building of smallholder farmers in agro-processing and the adoption of food safety practices.

 He also indicated that he has used many antimicrobials to control persistent pathogens in food. Prof Swalaha also gave insight into Food Safety Africa which was started by Prof Ijabadeniyi, an initiative that advances food safety in Africa by raising awareness about food safety, risks and control.

He then gave Prof Ijabadeniyi the opportunity to give his lecture, titled: The Battle with Persistent Foodborne Pathogens: Can We Win?

“In my research right now I’m not combining what I did in my Masters and my PhD. I’m looking at the incidence of pathogens in food and also coming up with different interventions to control these pathogens in food. At the same time, I’m also interested in indigenous fermented foods. How can we improve the quality of African fermented foods,” he said.

He then spoke on the Brown International Advanced Research Institute, (BIARI), based in Rhode Island, United States of America which was a defining moment in his career.

 He then continued his presentation on his current topic of research which focuses on the incidence of foodborne pathogens that constitute public health risk, including Listeria monocytogenes coli 0157:H7Salmonella SppAspergillus flavus; and the use of different interventions to control persistent pathogens in foods.

He looked at food security versus food safety, and highlighted more on the global state of food safety. He explained that contaminated foods sicken one in 10 people worldwide each year, and also, that 420 000 deaths occur, many of them young children, as well as that and in Africa, most deaths are as a result of Salmonella, the pork tapeworm, cyanide in cassava and aflatoxin.

Prof Ijabadeniyi further relayed that there are food safety challenges in sub-Saharan Africa, relating that food safety is not a priority, there were few skilled professionals in food security, inadequate food safety infrastructure as well as there was a lack of responsible food safety agency in place.

Another crucial element he focused on was on the microbiological hazards in food, indicating that there are more than 40 different pathogenic bacteria that are known, however, he added that most food borne illnesses are caused by Salmonella Spp, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium perfrigens, Staphylococcus aureus and Campylobacter jejuni.

Delving further into his discussion, Prof Ijabadeniyi spoke on one of the pathogenic bacteria’s in food such as Listeria monocytogenes which is associated with decaying vegetation, soil, sewage and faeces of animals.

“It grows very well under refrigeration storage conditions and form biofilms on products making it difficult to be sanitised. It causes listeriosis and symptoms included flu-like illness, meningitis. Individuals at risk of falling ill after eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes that are in pregnant women, children, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals,” he said.

He indicated that after attachment of the pathogenic bacterium, it can gain access into the sub-structure of produce.

“This is a major problem in the fresh-produce industry because pathogens’ present within the subsurface structures are protected from the effect of antimicrobial agents. Internalisation is possible because of the natural openings such as cars, stomata, lenticels and broken trichomes that abound on plants and vegetables,” he conveyed.

Further into the presentation Prof Ijabadeniyi explained about biofilm formation, antimicrobial resistance, and explained on the low infectious dose, saying that the infectious doses are lower for ‘at risk’ people.

He then explained on the way forward and how to win the battle to make food safer through a systematic and proactive approach.

He explained that a behaviour-based food safety management system, leadership, regulatory inspection and training, innovation and more research and collaboration are vital.

“To prevent reoccurrence of the listeriosis outbreak that occurred in South Africa, the government, industry and academic should collaborate instead of working in silo,” he stressed.

Pictured: Professor Oluwatosin Ademola Ijabadeniyi 

Waheeda Peters

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