Student - December 2, 2010

Delicious Crickets

Who? Harmke Klunder, Master’s student of Food Safety
What? Research for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) into microbiological pollution of edible insects in Laos.
Where? National University of Laos
Why? Research on edible insects for human consumption is fascinating!

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'I'm all for the use of insects as a source of protein. They could provide an important contribution to the sustainable production of protein. Together with two students from Laos and with the help of the FAO I set up a micro-biological lab to examine the food safety of edible insects. Those students were fantastic; they are willing to work all day long and do anything for you.
I was living in a small apartment in the tourist area and that was great. You do get used to temperatures of around 40 degrees and humidity of nearly 100 percent, but you have to adapt. For example, I made use of an electric scooter so that I wouldn't arrive everywhere completely drenched in sweat. Nature and beautiful rural villages were all a bike ride away. I could walk to my massage parlour and good restaurants were literally around the corner. They would serve soup with ant's eggs and freshly frittered crickets with garlic. Delicious! And in Laos they make the best beer in all Asia.
We did have to improvise with the lab work at times. The equipment didn't always function. Sometimes we would have power cuts for days, which is tricky when you have just started an experiment. And ants were a problem; they were everywhere, in my bed and even in the lab.

Once I burnt my hand with boiling agar, and that was the day the lab didn't have any water. That was quite nasty, the blisters came up badly. I suggested to my lab colleagues that we should always have a bucket of water handy in the lab, but they just laughed about that. Safety in any case is not something they take very seriously in the lab. People go: 'no worries', take it easy, relax. In a way that's quite nice, but it can be quite annoying if you really want to get something done. 
I built up a very good relationship with my students even though I sometimes missed the Dutch directness. But after a couple of months I must admit I'd had enough of working in a lab under such difficult conditions.'

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