World Food Safety Day – Call to action

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Johnson Opoku-Boateng

Industry & Consumer Information with Johnson Opoku-Boateng

The World Food Safety Day (WFSD) is an annual celebration of food safety jointly led by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO). Today, 7th June, marks World Food Safety Day for the year 2021.

According to the WHO, the celebration aims to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks – thus contributing to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.

The theme for this year is ‘Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow’. The WHO stresses that production and consumption of safe food has immediate and long-term benefits for people, the planet and the economy. Recognising the systemic connections between the health of people, animals, plants, the environment and the economy will help us meet needs of the future. There are five calls to action for the celebration, and it’s important we look at them a bit more into detail.

“Recognising the global burden of foodborne diseases -which affect individuals of all ages, in particular children under-5 and persons living in low-income countries – the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed in 2018 that every 7 June would be World Food Safety Day. In 2020, the World Health Assembly further adopted a decision on strengthening efforts on food safety to reduce the burden of foodborne disease. WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) jointly facilitate the observance of World Food Safety Day, in collaboration with member-states and other relevant organisations.” – WHO.

“Food safety is a shared responsibility between governments, producers and consumers.  Everyone has a role to play from farm to table, to ensure the food we consume is safe and healthy. Through the World Food Safety Day, WHO works to mainstream food safety in the public agenda and reduce the burden of foodborne diseases globally. Food safety is everyone’s business.” – WHO.

Call to Action 1 – Ensure its safe

This call to action is aimed at government. It is the responsibility of government to lead the quest for safe and nutritious food for all.  The conversation around food safety and nutrition in Ghana seems to have been relegated to the private sector. The role of government has only been seen through the work of regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drugs Authority and Ghana Standards Authority.

This cannot be said to be enough, since the work to ensure compliance is pushed onto the shoulders of food processors and managers of hospitality industries. Regulation is important, but ensuring that the needed infrastructure and competence of food processors is at world-class levels is also the responsibility of government in part.

Call to Action 2 – Grow it safe

Agriculture and food producers need to adopt good practices. In the study of food safety and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, there is a refrain: from farm to fork. Indeed, this is extremely important because safe and nutritious food is a result of all the processes food goes through along the value chain.

Producers of input materials such as raw materials and ingredients must ensure their products will serve the key objective of food processors being quality and consumer safe. Hence, players in the agriculture sector must adopt good agricultural practices.  The need for them to adopt the proper application of pesticides and fertilisers anchoring on the GAPs therefore cannot be overemphasised.

Not spraying the products directly, and also applying the right proportion of fertiliser to products in the bid to promote and ensure consumer food safety and production of nutritious and safe food products, is of immense importance. They should note that safety of food features from farm to fork – and hence unsafe food products cannot be made safe. Processors must also adopt Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and other food safety standards to provide the confidence that food will not cause harm when consumed.

Call to Action 3 – Keep it safe

Business operators must make sure food is safe. Business operators and food handlers need to realise and acknowledge the important role they play in food safety. They are at a very crucial part of the food chain, and hence have a role to play in the food safety campaign. Food handlers need to ensure that they have food safety management systems in place to set the tone for the good manufacturing practices needed to produce safe food.

They should herald the 5 Keys to Safe Food, as outlined by the FAO/WHO to ensure every food that leaves their premises is safe for consumption. It is of importance that they ensure all food handlers acquire the necessary and required training needed for effective and safe handling of food.

Having in mind one of the quotes from FAO – “If it is not safe, it is not food” – food processors need to wholeheartedly embrace their role and ensure that food-handling, from raw material reception through processing and to storage and delivery, all strictly adhere to standards and regulations of the FDA and the international food safety standards they subscribe to. They need to take into account the cleanliness of premises, wearing of appropriate hygienic clothing, the use of quality raw materials and potable water in all processes, as these factors contribute to keeping food safe.

Call to Action 4 – Know what’s safe

Consumers need to learn about safe and healthy food. Food is an essential part of life. There are several food items on the market – ranging from homemade foods to processed foods. The processor has the primary responsibility of ensuring foods sold to consumers are safe and of good quality. It is also important for consumers to take responsibility for their own safety by ensuring that food is safe before consumption.

There a few things to look out for when food is being purchased. When it comes to processed foods in cans, bottles and other primary packaging, it is critical that they are inspected before purchase. Some of the items to check are: best before and expiry dates, other consumer information on the pack, bloating and rust with respect to cans, damaged primary packaging; and the nature of the product when opened. It is not safe to eat the contents of bloated canned foods. Expired products are to be discarded immediately. Mouldy food is not suitable for consumption.

Call to Action 5 – Team-up for food safety

Work together for safe food and good health. It is clear that achieving food safety does not lie at the doorstep of one group of persons. All stakeholders within the value chain are responsible for safe, good nutritious food. Therefore, government through the regulatory authorities, public health institutions, primary producers, food processors, food distribution companies, wholesalers, retailers and consumers must find a common platform to discuss all the issues confronting the safety and suitability of food in order to find lasting solutions to protect consumers. It is also important for the same group of people to discuss nutrition-sensitive agriculture aimed at ensuring the nutritional composition of food is kept intact throughout the value chain.

Conclusion

Food safety is the concept of providing food that will safe and not cause harm, injury or illness when consumed according to its intended use. This is the time for the world to unite on food safety and nutrition, to save the world from food-poisoning and foodborne illnesses. Indeed, together we can and we must – because food safety is everybody’s business.

Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Founder & 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]; [email protected]

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