The importance of food hygiene cannot be overemphasized. It serves as the most potent preventive measure against contamination which can lead to food poisoning, illness, or death as well as ensure persons who eat hygienically prepared meals reap the health benefits.
In many rural settings, most households have access to an adequate food supply, however, concerns exist over the hygiene practices employed during the preparation of food for domestic and commercial purposes.
According to the World Health Organized (WHO), food hygiene refers to the conditions and measures necessary to ensure the safety of food from production to consumption.
School Feeding Programme
The Ghana School Feeding Programme (SFP) was introduced over a decade ago; in 2005, to be precise under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s “home-grown” initiative. The program was introduced, in part, to raise basic school enrolment levels, as the meals served as an incentive for many parents and students alike.
Since its inception, a question that has remained at the fore of discussions on the program has been, “How do we guarantee that the meals served by the SFP caterers are hygienic and wholesome for the students?” This has been a matter of utmost importance, as it has come to light that most of the food handlers with the SFP do not practice adequate food hygiene as part of their duties?
With cooking on a mass-scale, food passes through many hands, thereby increasing the chances of food contamination due to improper handling. This has the potential to put the health of consumers of the food, in this case – students, in jeopardy.
Studies have shown that the menace of food-borne diseases is more prominent in developing countries such as Ghana due to prevailing poor food-handling and sanitation practices, inadequate food safety laws, lack of financial resources to invest in safer equipment, and lack of education for food handlers.
Despite possessing adequate knowledge of the procedures for and necessity of proper food hygiene, most food-handlers, lack safe and appropriate facilities, as well as non-existent enforcement, have seen them disregard such knowledge.
Nonetheless, institutions such as the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) and the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) have displayed a commitment to the work of regulating food standards and improvement in food safety systems. Despite these efforts, the country continues to record publicized incidents of food-borne illness and contamination in various geographical locations, and most notably in our basic schools.
Why should we practice food hygiene in our schools?
In schools, it is imperative that both food handlers and other staff are aware of the specific risks related to that environment as students could be particularly at risk from food-borne illnesses, for a number of reasons.
Chief among them is the fact that children are less likely to practice good hygiene on their own accord, as well as their immune systems, being less well developed and equipped to deal with illnesses. The implication is that illnesses can be more severe and allergies can also be more common in children than adults.
- There is the need for the caterers to be provided with regular capacity training and also ensure that they adhere to the hygienic practices especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The environment, where food is cooked and served should be of great concern to operators of the SFP project; the government considers before entering into contracts with food vendors.
- Educating food handlers as well as students will significantly reduce the chances of contracting food-borne illnesses and the effects of outbreaks, as well as improve public health.
- Food safety education programs need to target certain segments of the population who, either directly have a role in food preparation or have increased vulnerability to food-borne diseases.
- Schools should ensure that the food and beverages available to the students are healthy and clean. The meals must meet dietary recommendations by including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and non-fat dairy products.
- Hand washing as a precautionary measure to protect against the transfer of bacteria from person to food and other contact surfaces, as well as the spread of diseases must be encouraged.
- Regulatory enforcement must be encouraged and legislation reviewed and introduced to meet the changing dynamics.
- The stakeholders in the education sector should ramp up sensitization efforts.
- There should be improved supervision and monitoring of school feeding both at the basic and the Senior High Schools to make sure food that students eat is healthy.
- There should be periodic medical examinations for food handling personnel to ascertain their health statuses.
- Only qualified caterers with certificates in food hygiene and food safety should be engaged.
By Comfort Sena FETRIE
The writer is a journalist.0207604512. [email protected] are some of the children enjoying School Feeding Program in a poor surrounding at Savelugu Municipality of the Northern region