Questions arise as Ghana marks World Food Safety Day

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The United Nations (UN) General Assembly established World Food Safety Day in 2018 to raise awareness of this important issue. World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations jointly facilitate the observance of World Food Safety Day, in collaboration with the Member States and other stakeholders.

The UN set aside June, 7Th of each year to mark the global event (World Food Safety Day) to draw attention and mobilize action to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks and improve human health.

The theme for the 2022 commemoration which also marks the fourth global World Food Safety Day is “Safer food, better health.”

Safe food is said to be very essential to human health and well-being and is one of the most critical guarantors of good health. The benefits of safe food includes improved nutrition and reduced absenteeism in schools and in the workplace.

However, Foodborne diseases which are very common in developing countries due to an unregulated market, and non-compliance with safety regulations affects at least one (1) in 10 people worldwide each year. There are over 200 of these diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.

Food undoubtedly is essential for sustenance and continuity of life, be it in humans, animals, plants, or microorganisms. Every living organism needs food for survival.

But if this same food which undoubtedly is essential for sustenance and continuity of life, is not wholesome, then your guess is as good as mine.

As usual, Ghana was not left out in this year’s global commemoration of World Food Safety Day. My tour of some markets in the capital revealed one thing which is the poor and unhygienic handling of foodstuffs and this was common across the various markets.

For instance, according to the Greater Accra Regional Environmental Health and Sanitation Director, Accra is sitting on a ‘food poisoning time bomb’ with unwholesome food being sold.

It is unfortunate that most people jostled for food every day, but are unconcerned about where the food was brought from, cooked, and who cooked it.

Most of these foods we consume them without minding the source, exactly how it got into the city. Corners that one cannot even think of.

For example, most of the vegetables we see around come from behind drains, behind the public toilet, and some around it, and it is only when you visit such places that you can know how the farmers operate.

Aside from the poor handling of foodstuffs by farmers, the activities of market some women does aggravate the situation.

Foodstuffs which are the ingredients for the preparation of healthy foods are placed on the bare floor (mostly muddy and mushy areas).

Vegetables and fruits which require little or no cooking are placed on dirty floors, some close to a rubbish dump site in the various markets. At Tudu and Agbogbloshie Markets, it was observed that ready-to-eat foods were exposed and other foodstuffs handled in an unhygienic manner.

Again preparation of food in an unhygienic place pose a grave danger of food poisoning to unsuspecting consumers and as such people needed to be mindful of where they patronised food.

Another worrisome trend obverseved is the massive patronage of rotten vegetables, especially tomatoes by people believed to be food vendors.

Using rotten vegetables, in preparing food made it stale, bad, wrong, and dangerous for consumption.

Sometimes it is difficult because these market women think of the money they will lose, hence, reducing and selling such tomatoes at cheaper prices, but authorities must try to conscientise them.

Statistics from the WHO indicates that unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.

It said an estimated 600 million- almost one in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420, 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years. $110 billion is lost each year in productivity and medical expenses resulting from unsafe food in low- and middle-income countries.

Even though there is no data locally, the chain of food safety should be a cause of concern to everyone.

It is there critical to join calls for the country’s safety regulating authorities to act promptly to ensure the elimination of practices that are detrimental to public food safety in Ghana.

Market women should at all times ensure that ready-to-eat foods are not exposed and other foodstuffs are handled in a hygienic manner.

Policymakers and implementers need to support policy makers to strengthen national food safety systems and ensure they comply with food safety standards, as well as engage in multi-sectoral collaboration at the local, national, regional, and global levels.

Food businesses must comply with international food standards and engage employees, suppliers and other stakeholders to grow and develop a food safety culture.

At the same time, educational institutions and workplaces need to promote safe food handling and support food safety. And consumers need to practice safe food handling at home and keep informed and promote food safety.

When these simple yet very effective measures are put in place, issues of food poisoning and unhygienic handling of foodstuffs from the point of production, and collection to its final destination (our homes) will be a thing of the past.