Food Safety: Are We Prepared for the Unexpected?

As Food Safety Day draws near, this year's theme underscores the importance of being prepared for food safety incidences, even up to mild levels. It is good to understand how these incidences can occur to create mechanisms to manage them or know where to channel queries for root causes. A food incident may arise as a result of accidents, weakened controls, food fraud, or unforeseen events. While policymakers, food safety agencies, farmers, and food business operators must work together to respond to food safety issues, consumers can also play an active role.

It is worth noting that in most instances, where food scarcity is the primary challenge, less attention is given to matters of food safety. People rush towards what they can afford with less inquisition of the food sources. This is a culture that has multiple times done damage to consumers' health and created significant drawbacks in economic development, especially in middle-income and developing countries.

Africa’s Food Safety Landscape

One in ten people worldwide falls ill from contaminated food each year The WHO estimates that around 420,000 people around the world die every year after consuming contaminated food, while children under 5 years of age carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, with 125, 000 deaths every year.

With the above data, the WHO African Region office runs the highest per capita burden of foodborne illness in the world. The World Bank (2019) in its estimation reported that the annual economic cost for sub-Saharan Africa related to foodborne illnesses and lost productivity alone exceeded USD 16 billion.

A scoping study carried out on food safety by the African Union (2019a) outlined numerous food safety challenges facing Africa ranging from; obsolete or outdated food safety legislation and policies to weak enforcement of legislative and regulatory mandates; lack of data, data sharing and other capacities for science- and risk-based standard setting; weak private sector food safety capacity, especially among SMEs, due in part to lack of food safety education and training; inadequate consumer awareness on food safety; and minimal harmonization of food safety standards and border controls within Africa limiting the free movement of food and its traceability

This reality reinforces the pressing need for comprehensive policies that address education, infrastructure development, and policy execution.

Pan-African initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) promise to enhance food safety by harmonizing standards and regulations across member states.

The landmark AfCFTA agreement involves the largest free-trade area globally, with a record market of 1.3 billion people (Trade Law Centre, 2019). It will promote access to food from areas with excess supply to those that lack it or cannot produce it efficiently.

In this regard, Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures will play an important role in implementing the AfCFTA because 75% of trade in Africa is dominated by agricultural and food products (African Union, 2019a). Meeting SPS standards is linked to increased efficiency in food production and processing; improved food quality, safety, and distribution; increased competitiveness; and reduction in cost of production and wastage.

This improved regional cooperation is foreseen to create better pathways to control foodborne hazards, facilitate safer trade practices and boost intra-Africa trade that can grow the Region’s Economy.

What we are doing

Collaboration is key in emphasizing food safety among key actors in food handling. At FSPN Africa we are committed to driving food safety awareness for a long-term impact. In alignment with World Food Safety Day 2024, FSPN Africa contributes significantly to the HealthyDiets4Africa, European Union funded project, to promote food safety and healthy eating habits.

We are cognizant that, most of the time information tends to remain in silos where the intended beneficiaries are unable to access and make adjustments in how they handle food or do their food handling procedures along the food supply chains.

Our goal is to change this scenario. We are creating digital platform that will bring together experts in the food safety sectors ranging from academia, private sector, governments and individuals to share valuable knowledge, new findings, learning materials and policy recommendations that can be accessed by all food actors at all times.

Additionally, Food handlers will interact with experts where they can outline critical concerns regarding food safety, and the best practices to put in place to enhance consumers’ trust.

Using both digital tools we aim to reach a wider community with key messages that will play a key role in enlightening our communities. We are also working with our communities through living labs to empower them with the right information and educate them about the importance of food safety in achieving healthier diets.

This will ensure people continuously learn on best practices of handling, preparing, and storing food safely which will prevent health effects and mitigate the toxicant exposure.

I have to mention that one of the major strides in Kenya’s food safety landscape is the adoption of new technologies for better traceability and monitoring of food products. For instance, digital platforms are being employed to track the movement of food products across the supply chain, ensuring that contaminated products can be swiftly identified and removed from circulation. This is the road we have embraced with The Shamba Calendar as we link farmers to consumers digitally.

To this end, I believe without food safety, achieving food and nutrition can be a dilemma. We must take our rightful roles in preventing, detecting, and managing risks through food safety practices, promoting debates, solutions, and ways to improve human health, trade, agriculture, and sustainable development. How prepared are you for the unexpected?

Call to Action: Everyone has a role to play

Government:

  1. Develop and regularly update national food safety emergency response plans and use “lessons learned” from food safety events to identify gaps and limitations.
  2. Ensure a coordinated approach across government agencies and national authorities including mechanisms for rapid exchange of information.
  3. Provide rapid, accurate and open information to stakeholders during food safety events and report international emergencies

Food Operators

  1. Establish and regularly update food safety management plans.
  2. Know how to avoid food safety incidents by following good hygiene practices.
  3. Provide regular staff training.

For more information, contact info@fspnafrica.org