Last year, Jovana Kovacevic, an Associate Professor working at the Food Innovation Center in Portland, launched a one-year project to help small-scale dairy producers in Serbia improve food safety measures, reduce risks of Listeria, and improve economic opportunities. The project was part of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) special call to mitigate impacts of COVID-19.
Kovacevic collaborated with the University of Belgrade to help develop educational opportunities aimed at better understanding microbial safety and quality as well as food packaging. Small producers in rural Serbian communities were identified as a primary audience because they had been disproportionally affected by the pandemic during the country’s lockdowns. This vulnerable subgroup of mostly females in rural communities have limited opportunities or access to other work and when they lost access to the traditional markets during the pandemic, they lost significant income for their families.
In addition, raw milk (also called unpasteurized milk) can carry harmful bacteria, including Listeria, and other germs that can cause illness or even death. Holding onto dairy products longer, and not being able to transport dairy safely, increased these risks.
Serbia is considered a developing economy, so the USAID project was able to address food safety through an economic lens. The educational materials developed by Kovacevic and her team aim to reduce the risk of exposure to Listeria while also improving economic opportunities for small-scale dairy farms.
This three-phase project aims to develop curriculum and offer in-person trainings at different regions. It is the first of its kind in Balkans. This is the first time the Food Innovation Center has worked in Eastern Europe, but the success of the project is fueling more interest. Not only is the value of this work beneficial to Serbian farmers and dairy producers, but it can also be translated and reformatted to fit a growing number of small farms in Oregon and other parts of the US who are similarly challenged with finding ways to address food safety and economic challenges related to access to markets.
Kovacevic was born in Croatia, and moved to Serbia when she was seven during the war. At 15, she moved to Canada with her family and later received her bachelor’s from the Unviersity of Alberta in Edmonton and then her PhD at the University of British Columbia. She came to Oregon State in 2016 to work at the Food Innovation Center, the nation’s first urban agricultural experiment station.