‘600m people suffer from foodborne sicknesses yearly’
• Unwholesome food leads to 420,000 premature deaths worldwide
• Say food safety is everyone’s business
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the World Health Organisation and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as Codex Alimentarius International Food Standards have said food safety is everyone’s business as “600 million people fall sick as a result of around 200 different types of foodborne illness” yearly.
The organisations stated “the burden of such illness falls most heavily on the poor and on the young.”
Worldwide, foodborne illness is responsible for 420,000 preventable deaths every year, depleting the productive world human capital resources.
World Food Safety Day is celebrated yearly to make people aware of food safety issues, demonstrate how to prevent illness through food safety, discuss collaborative approaches to improved food safety across sectors and promote solutions and ways of being more food-safe.
Safety of food starts from growing, processing, transporting, storing, selling, preparing and serving food.
Tagged ‘Food safety is everyone’s business,’ the theme calls to action stakeholders to ensure food is safe, and, “Governments must ensure safe and nutritious food for all.”
A clarion call is also made that “Agriculture and food producers need to adopt good practices.”
Business operators are also called upon to make sure food is safe and that consumers need to learn about safe and healthy food by teaming up for food safety.
As Nigeria is concerned about increasing food production to feed over 200 million people, stakeholders are also worried about food safety and wholesomeness.
Food grain contaminants, especially aflatoxin, fumonisins and aluminum, have been pinpointed as factors in serious health issues such as cancer, immune system suppression and stunted growth in infants.
Country Director, Harvest-Plus Nigeria, Paul Ilona, said Nigeria could produce safe foods.
“We know the standards, we have willing investors, including farmers and processors. We have the markets, but we lack direction, enforcement of safety regulations, incentives for compliance and a disoriented public sector,” he said.
He added that it had been a game of the willing for the willing in an unwilling environment, saying, “If we continue this way, we will not only constrain the Nigeria we know, we shall constrain the Nigeria of the future.”
Meanwhile, a food-as-human-right advocate, Prof. Gbolagade Ayoola, said food safety is a specific and sensitive aspect of national food security, which is generally taken for granted.
“Food safety deals with the wholesomeness of the different food items we eat, in terms of contamination or spoilage during handling or preparation. Therefore, it calls for a holistic approach to monitoring the handling and preparation of food for both the domestic and international markets,” he said.
He explained that the international community is overly more sensitive to food safety concerns to avoid importing sickness from countries to countries unsuspectingly through food, thereby undermining the health of people.
“That is the significance of International World Food Safety Day, which raises awareness of countries about food safety and the need for the government to take it more seriously and not lightly.”
In this connection, he added, Nigeria should to step up food safety measures and vigorously enforce the same.
“Towards this end, we venture to advocate the sharpening of policy focus on food safety by bringing ‘food’ up as an action word in the name of Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, to become Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Rural Development.
“This will increase the capacity of policy authority to ensure food safety along the entire food value chain, including the elimination of sharp practices in crop and livestock manufacturing.”
Former Team Lead, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), Prof. Damian Chukwendu, said food grain contaminants, especially aflatoxin, fumonisins and aluminum had been pinpointed as causes of health burdens in cancer, immune system suppression, stunted growth in infants, mortality and morbidity rates.
He said to minimise contamination and ensure safety of food, farmers, grain aggregators, traditional rulers and input dealers were being trained on good farming, post-harvest and storage good practices to minimise contaminants, including aluminum, found in most grains in the country before the COVID-19 pandemic interruption.
A professor of Food Safety, Food Microbiology and Veterinary Public Health at the Department of Veterinary Public Health and Preventive Medicine at the University of Ibadan, Prof. Victoria Olushola Adetunji said to reduce the disease burden associated with food contamination, there should be good waste management.
To prevent zoonotic transmission of diseases, she said proper farm hygiene management, including cleaning of feeding troughs, biosecurity and all procedures to reduce disease establishment on animal farms, and biosecurity, involving control of traffic into the farm, should be ensured.
“We have 700,000 deaths that are attributed to antimicrobial resistance and there is a projection that by 2050, we are going to have 10 million deaths that would be attributed to anti-microbial resistance,” she said.
More than 200,000 yearly deaths are recorded from food poisoning and contamination in Nigeria due to smoked fishes and other contaminated foods, according to researchers.
Not only that, cost implication of illnesses associated with such foodborne diseases is valued at over $3.6 billion.
An aquaculture specialist, Professor Shehu Latunji, disclosed that apart from contaminated grains and animals that humans consume, improperly processed fishes are part of the food poisoning leading to morbidity and mortality.
Executive Director of the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr (Mrs) Patricia Pessu, said poor post-harvest handlings of food lead to contamination despite various technologies already developed by Nigerian scientists.
She said post-harvest losses and contamination could be addressed along the value chains of drying, transportation, storage and the market levels.
“So, addressing losses at each of these levels will go a long way in reducing the post-harvest losses and contamination,” she said.
“So, if handling during harvesting is properly done and at the right time, you have reduced the chances of spoilage and losses.”
She added that NSPRI had developed standard operating procedures and technologies to reduce post-harvest losses for various agricultural crops.
“For example, there is the fish smoking kiln and ice fish box for fish and livestock products. For fruits and vegetables, we have developed ventilated stackable crates. For grains, we have developed the Inert Atmosphere Silo. We have various crop dryers (mechanical, electrical and solar),” she added.
She urged investors, farmers and food grain merchants to take up the technologies to ensure food safety and minimise food loss, wastage and contamination.