If you’ve been to any part of sub-Saharan Africa, you know that the large majority of food consumed (about 85 to 95 percent) passes through informal channels: vegetable, milk and meat stalls and outdoor markets cater to customers across urban centers and rural landscapes alike. And while the food sold there is often safe, sometimes it’s not. And when it’s not, people get sick. Some people die.

Food-borne diseases aren’t just a problem in Africa. Worldwide, the impact of food-borne disease on human health may be as great as the burden for tuberculosis or lung cancer. It’s also costly. Annually, food-borne disease is estimated to cost $78 billion in the United States, $14 billion in China and $3 billion in Nigeria.

But Africa presents a particular challenge in addressing food safety standards, mostly because the majority of food passes through channels that aren’t necessarily regulated. Last week, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners released a new book on the topic called Food safety and informal markets: Animal products in sub-Saharan Africa.

The key message from ILRI researchers is that a push for greater food safety standards in these markets should be informed by an understanding of their vital role as a provider of food and income to several hundred million people who rank among the world’s poorest. In other words, we can’t just shut down these markets when there are suspected food safety problems. We need to work with them to improve their practices. If you want to know more, we recommend you read “What’s eating sub-Saharan Africa?” by researchers Delia Grace and Kristina Roesel.