Industry & Consumer Information: Keep the masks up as best practice – A Note to Food Handlers


“The role of the food safety professional should be to create a food safety culture, not a food safety programme” Frank Yiannas. Frank is the Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As a food safety futurist and advocate for consumers, he is outspoken on ‘a food safety culture’ from the farm until food reaches the table of consumers. A food safety culture is influenced by best practice, consumer complaints and happenings such as foodborne illnesses and global issues that could directly impact the safety of food. The above underpins the reasons behind food safety policy reviews at least annually.

A New Dawn

The world woke up to a debilitating pandemic of alarming proportions in the latter part of 2019. What was later discovered as COVID-19 had buried its protein spikes into the fabric of society with devastating effects later: Victims gasping for breath as if they were being drowned in the middle of the ocean. Many survived the scare, but others gave up the fight to the shock of loved ones. In what became known as the ‘President’s Updates’, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, kept Ghanaians abreast with status of the pandemic, precautions to take, government’s efforts and other important pieces of information.

In update No. 28 delivered on Sunday 27th March 2022, the president is quoted as saying: “So from tomorrow, Monday 28th March, the wearing of facemasks is no longer mandatory. I encourage all of you, though, to continue enhanced hand hygiene practices and avoid overcrowded gatherings”. This directive has been warmly embraced by a majority of the citizenry, since many regarded wearing facemasks as uncomfortable.

Facemasks and the Food Industry

We stand on the verge of making one significant review of the personal hygiene protocols in Ghana’s food industry. This will be an additional protocol to have all food handlers continue wearing facemasks in production areas. There are standard hygiene rules in the food industry once you enter production facilities. The following are key among them: cover hair with hygienic hairnets; keep a clean shave or cover beards with a beard net; no jewellery – such as earrings, necklaces, bracelets, wedding rings, watches etc.; no smoking, keep short fingernails, no singing or talking, no sneezing and no coughing. While most of these rules can easily be adhered to, sneezing and coughing are mostly involuntary actions caused by irritations of the throat or nostrils. Until enforcement of wearing facemasks to curb the spread of COVID-19, general hygiene protocols did not include the wearing of facemasks.

Advantages of Masking Up

The reasons why facemasks became important at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic are similar when it comes to food processing. The actions of talking, shouting, singing, sneezing and coughing generates aerosols. These aerosols are tiny droplets and act as vehicles for pathogenic organisms, including bacteria and viruses. Pathogens are disease-causing organisms and must be prevented from contacting food and food-contact surfaces. While wearing facemasks for extended periods is a discomfort, it was a blessing in that it helped the prevention of diseases in the food, beverage and catering industries. It took care of the involuntary nature of coughs and sneezes by preventing contamination of food and the food environment.

In the case of food retail outlets which actively engage customers during the process of buying, a facemask prevents the flurry of saliva that previously would have been introduced into the food. Examples of such outlets are local restaurants (chopbars), ‘Koko’ sellers, Waakye sellers etc. Vendors usually serve portions standing over the food while at the same time engaging buyers – and in so doing introduce saliva into the food and the food environment. It is therefore more hygienic for such vendors to keep their facemasks on while serving ready-to-eat foods.

Adoption of Compulsory Wearing of Facemasks

Ghana adopted a Food Safety Policy on 27 April 2015 at a Stakeholders Meeting held in Accra ahead of World Health Day 2015. The theme for the meeting was ‘Food Safety from Farm to Plate’. The goal of the National Food Safety Policy is to bring coordination into the regulation of food safety and define the role of stakeholders to ensure public health and facilitate trade in food. Hence, the policy outlines policy objectives, measures and strategies to achieve the objectives. The policy was developed with technical and financial support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and like any other policy must be reviewed regularly.

The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) that coordinated formulation of the National Food Safety Policy must take this opportunity to call for a review to include wearing facemasks through objective 2 – which is “Review or amend, when necessary, existing legislation and regulations on food safety to promote harmonisation and synergy of legislation”. The review should involve key stakeholders in the food industry to ensure a seamless implementation of this protocol.

 Deliberate Action by Actors in the Food Industry

Although the Public Health Act (2012) Act 851 does not explicitly instruct food-handlers to wear facemasks, the requirements under section 100 of the Act can only be complied with if food is manufactured taking into consideration Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). Actors in the food industry should take the lead in implementation of this protocol and enforce compliance by all employees who work in production departments.

The FDA and Municipal Authorities must ensure that all food-handlers in the food retail business adopt wearing facemasks as a hygiene protocol. It is the responsibility of business owners in the Food sector to provide facemasks and ensure employees replace them regularly to avoid cross-contamination issues. Public health is the responsibility of all, and the enforcement of such an important practice as wearing a facemask during food-handling has the potential of protecting the public against illnesses.

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]

Johnson Opoku-Boateng


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