- The quality of food we consume has socio-economic ramifications in the case of productivity, as food safety is a crucial pillar for food security.
- A healthy country means a productive population contributing to national development without suffering food-borne diseases.
Food safety for animal and human nutrition is a public health concern in any jurisdiction worldwide.
In all its shades and forms, food safety is sensitive to a country’s social stability and development and needs to be prioritised as an area of concern for all.
See, the level of food safety has direct and indirect effects on national security, the economy and social development and must be maintained through strict adherence to strict food standards.
The food the public or our animals consume should inspire confidence that they are not in danger of contamination. The prevalence of unsafe foods that aid in spreading food-borne illnesses continues to negatively impact economic development by eroding human health standards.
In our country, there have been several incidents in the recent past, especially in schools, where contaminated food harmed learners. It is concerning that conversations about food safety are only incident-based and hardly capture national attention regularly.
We must sustain conversations about food safety beyond the regulatory environment and bring it out in the mainstream. I am delighted that the Food and Feed Safety Control Coordination Bill (National Assembly Bill No. 21 of 2023) is making good progress in Parliament, and we may soon have a solid law to sustain food safety.
The quality of food we consume has socio-economic ramifications in the case of productivity, as food safety is a crucial pillar for food security.
According to the World Health Organisation, unsafe food causes 600 million cases of food-borne diseases each year worldwide and 420,000 deaths. 30 per cent of food-borne deaths occur among children under five years of age.
WHO estimated that 33 million years of healthy lives are lost annually due to eating unsafe food globally, which is likely an underestimation.
A healthy country means a productive population contributing to national development without suffering food-borne diseases. Having the appropriate checks on food safety can boost international trade and reputation and boost businesses for domestic producers who export food.
First, we can boost food safety by investing in food safety training at various levels. At the institutional level, as food companies, let us constantly train our staff to identify hazards while handling our products; we must also ensure adherence to food safety standards.
If it entails packaging food safely, which materials and preservatives can be used? If we are partnering with food delivery services, what standards do we set to avoid food contamination?
As we engage farmers, let us train them on how to handle food from their farms. Recently, a report revealed that farmers are using toxic pesticides, which, among other effects, impact food safety because of the chemicals they contain.
We can educate farmers on suitable pesticides to avoid contaminating their crops, which find their way to our plates. We can guide them on the safe ways to store their produce after harvest to prevent contamination and ensure that what they sell in the market is safe for consumption.
We can monitor the kind of water they use to irrigate their farms, as contaminated water can increase the risk of food-borne diseases.
Secondly, we need stronger legislation and policies to curb cases of food contamination. The National Food Safety Policy of 2021 is meant to protect and promote consumer health while also seeking to harmonise food safety standards and regulations.
The lack of sufficient resources by oversight and regulatory bodies restricts their mandate to function. This also makes them prone to corruption, which puts public health at risk.
Strong laws will safeguard against food adulteration for quick economic gains. We can make our laws better and stronger by lobbying lawmakers on how best we can promote food safety as stakeholders.
Thirdly, let us be aware of contemporary threats to food safety through research. The debate about genetically modified foods is also a topical issue that should be actively faced with enhanced information sharing.
At Unga Group, we have invested in robust quality assurance systems from the talent, software and hardware, including one of the most advanced and certified food safety laboratories in sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition, we work closely with regulators from all concerned agencies, and we have a firm policy on checking the standards of our products and all safety measures for our consumers’ benefit.
Admittedly, technology is one of the main drivers of food production and distribution.
Adopting food tech systems will come in handy in ensuring food safety through Smart Packaging, Food Authentication technologies, high-pressure sterile processing and Artificial Intelligence quality control.
As the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations continues to posit in its advocacy efforts, we must focus on adopting a sustainable food system (SFS), which is a food system that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations is not compromised.
Symon Bargurei is the Unga Group Strategy and Innovations director.