Feeding the Hungry

By Rebecca Kirkman

Dr. Adeniyi Odugbemi ’17 is protecting global health through food safety and education

The moment he stepped onto the bottling plant floor, Dr. Adeniyi “Deni” Odugbemi ’17 knew he was destined for a future in the food safety industry. After just one month at PepsiCo, he moved from his quality control internship to a full-time laboratory analyst position, overseeing a group of interns and running analyses in the lab. He remembers thinking during his very first job, “This is what I’m called to do.”

By 2013, twelve years after that first internship, Odugbemi had worked in nearly all aspects of food safety—from operations to quality assurance—at some of the biggest companies in the industry. But in a world where the World Health Organization reports that more than 870 million people go to bed hungry each night, Odugbemi knew he needed to do more.

So he enrolled in Walden to earn his PhD in Public Health with an emphasis in food policy.

“I was looking for a program that provides academic rigor, credibility, and a program where the alumni are successful,” he recalls. “I discovered that Walden graduates are hired at leading corporations and many hold leadership positions.”

More importantly, though, Walden offered the unique opportunity to learn the skills he needed to “achieve something significant” and make a difference in the world. Now, with his Walden degree in hand, he is on a mission to address one of the biggest challenges the world faces today: food insecurity.

A Mission to Expand Food Safety

Odugbemi believes that to eradicate hunger, the world needs to accomplish three essential goals: reduce overall food waste, produce enough food to feed the growing population, and establish universal food safety principles.

Because access to safe food is such a basic human need, Odugbemi explains, it is the foundation for many other industries, with far-reaching consequences when food safety protocols fail. That’s why he has dedicated his career to spreading greater awareness of food safety, which he believes will help improve the global economy as well as overall public health.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that foodborne illnesses cost more than $15.6 billion annually due to healthcare costs and decreased consumer confidence in food safety,” he says. “This negatively impacts buying patterns of consumers. Hence, in the spirit of maintaining the health and wellness of consumers, food safety becomes imperative.”

In his daily work, Odugbemi addresses industry challenges like foodborne illnesses, environmental contamination, new bacteria and antibiotic resistance, and changing consumer preferences. Now the global director of food safety at one of the largest food processing companies in the world, he oversees food product safety for approximately 450 crop procurement locations, 330 manufacturing facilities, 62 innovation centers, and the world’s premier crop transportation network—all across 40 countries. 

In this role, he truly has a global impact. “My goal is to unlock nature and enrich the lives of our customers,” he says. “We do that by ensuring that safe, quality, and nutritious food products are available for consumers globally.”

Increasing Awareness Across the Globe

In addition to his daily work, Odugbemi is expanding food safety education in the U.S. and abroad. After running a community workshop in his home country of Nigeria in collaboration with a local nonprofit, he realized the need for education and resources. 

“It was an eye-opener for me,” he recalls. “Getting into the class and teaching them, I discovered that food processing in the sub-Saharan is not as elaborate as one would think. They are getting things done, but they’re not always getting it done the right way.” 

Since that first meeting, he has run 10 more trainings in Africa, giving members of the local food processing industry the knowledge and resources they need to better prioritize quality control. 

While the coronavirus pandemic has had some impact on his global travel and educational trainings, Odugbemi says he has stayed resilient through tough circumstances by focusing on what he can control. 

“My resiliency lies in following established practices, protocols, and activities that preserve my mental health,” he says, crediting his faith for keeping him grounded. He continues to move forward, even through difficulty, by focusing on doing good. “I really enjoy what I do.”