“Much of our food system depends on our not knowing much about it, beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner; cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it’s a short way from not knowing who’s at the other end of your food chain to not caring–to the carelessness of both producers and consumers that characterizes our economy today. Of course, the global economy couldn’t very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds. This is why the American food industry and its international counterparts fight to keep their products from telling even the simplest stories–”dolphin safe,” “humanely slaughtered,” etc.–about how they were produced. The more knowledge people have about the way their food is produced, the more likely it is that their values–and not just “value”–will inform their purchasing decisions.”
The above statement by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, provokes deep thinking as to whether food producers really think about the safety of end users or the dragon in the room, called profits. What comes out of a business in terms of what managers of businesses and their shareholders receive in their bank accounts most times obliterate their sense of empathy for users of products emerging from buzzing equipment confined in spaces they call factories.
The issue of food safety breaches in our country is not because we have no laws. It is a fact that the Public Health Act 2012, Act 851 has all the ingredients that sets out the production of food in the safest manner possible for human consumption. The challenge however is the understanding of the law by actors in the food industry and a lack of brutal enforcement. Ghana boasts of great restaurants and hotels and to some extent very good food industries, but that is as far as the eye can see. Packing halls are “decorated” with the best flooring and equipment but process areas in some food factories which are “out of bounds” to visitors can be anything but hygienic. In fact, there are restaurants which boast of fantastic red carpets and great ambiance in eating areas but that is where it ends; after all, that is as far as the eyes of customers can see. Behind that swing kitchen door and storage areas are conditions that will make one’s stomach churn in protest.
The proliferation of pests like cockroaches and rodents in some factories can be described as a case of another world that is deliberately created to coexist with what we call a place of food manufacture for human consumption. In many of these cases the collaborators are business owners and managers of such facilities who work along with such pests as if it was meant to be. Indeed, the morning rush hour in Accra and many cities in Ghana can be a real pain; the reason why the workforce living at the outskirts will move towards the Central Business District so early. Breakfast is served on the streets of Accra for example and the menu is normally packed with porridge, doughnuts, natural and processed fruit juices, soft drinks, fruit salads, vegetable salads etc. Of course, many people may not want to know where most of such foods are prepared from and will just assume it is alright. Whilst some may be served from hygienic kitchens, majority might be coming from places you will not call a factory or a kitchen.
Food Safety Culture
Every endeavour in life should start with some intentionality to make it live beyond the generation of birth. If the right habits are not learnt early in life, it becomes a daunting task to drastically change them midlife and beyond. The right way to start a food processing business is to first establish a Food Safety policy. After all, a policy is a statement of intent, that ‘binds’ the business to some commitment which most times is based on the laws governing the sector in question. The commitment to provide safe food that will not harm the consumer when eaten according to its intended use always reminds you that, from farm to fork, all processes must follow strict Good Manufacturing, Food Safety and Food Quality practices. It is true that, Food Safety policies in many organizations are pieces of statements that decorate reception areas, notice boards and corridors but at least there is a statement of intent and commitment to uphold standards to the benefit of consumers. The fact that it has been thought of, and established is a good starting point for execution even if slowly.
The Food Safety Policy
The Food Safety policy just like any other policy has certain characteristics. It comprises of the general policy statement, policy objectives and responsibilities. If the policy that informs the roadmap is poorly written, it is obvious that, the outcome of processes in the business will not conform to international standards. Policies flow from the aims and objectives of the business and it informs the kind of standard operating procedures the business will develop. It is standard practice to train all employees on your policy statement and ensure they understand every word. The many issues of food safety and quality stems from the fact that, personnel do not understand policy statements if they even exist. I am very certain, that many food handlers reading this article cannot tell what their food safety policy entails and for many others, they’ve not even seen a food safety policy ever.
Qualified Personnel as an Enabler
There is big room for improvement when it comes to our food safety systems. The current government’s 1D1F programme heavily hinges on agribusiness and hence, most of the factories would have as their output, food products. Starting right first time is a slogan the quality community has used for many years. Whilst we work at correcting the flaws in our existing food industries we can start right with the emerging ones and keep the momentum. The global market will only accept products from factories that meet international standards. The US and European markets will not bend backwards when it comes to food safety and quality.
There is therefore the need for food industries to employ qualified personnel including food safety and quality experts to help in setting up the required food safety and quality management systems. Section 106 of the Public Health Act 2012, Act 851 stipulates that “A person shall not manufacture a food for sale unless the food is manufactured under the supervision of a person with appropriate knowledge and qualification who can ensure the purity, quality and wholesomeness of the food”
In conclusion, a quote by Hannah Fitzsimons on 10 basic quotes on food safety says that “Food safety has universal appeal. We are all consumers; we all want safe food. It is an issue that involves and spans many different industries; manufacturing, retail, restaurants, technology, government, education, consulting, law, journalism, and more. It is certainly a subject that people are talking about”. Remember, that ignorance has a lifespan; the day your consumers get to the endpoint of their ignorance and embrace the light of knowledge about food safety is the day your foods business might be dragged on the hard floor to extinction if you are careless about providing safe and quality food. If you have to take a decision to be serious about your foods business, that decision must be taken today.
Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Chief Executive & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality Assurance, Health & Safety, Environmental Management systems, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety). He is also a consumer safety advocate and helps businesses with regulatory affairs. He can be reached on +233209996002, email: [email protected].
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