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Tackling poor food safety practices

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Wash of hands. Photo: UGA Healthy Dawg

With the increasing poor practices in food safety and security in Nigeria, there is tendency of experiencing severe health outcomes and recording massive death rates everyday from contaminants.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria there is rising poor food safety practices and standards, which according to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), has led to huge economic losses, which are evident in the myriad of rejects of some food exports from Nigeria at international borders as a result of contamination, poor preservation method and adulteration of food products.

According to the Director-General, NAFDAC, Prof. Christianah Adeyeye, a major concern that deserves ‘very serious’ attention urgently, is how not to comprise food safety standards in the race to increase food production and processing to provide food for the growing population around the world.

Adeyeye who gave the assertion during the agency’s symposium held in celebration of the maiden World Food Safety Day, anchored by the Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FSAN) Directorate on June 7 at NECA House, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, noted that there are some reoccurring food safety and emerging issues in Nigeria, which are of major concern, in spite of aggressive efforts by regulators to contain the problem.

She said some of the issues, which has led to poor food safety practices employed in the food supply chain include: artificial ripening of fruits using unapproved agents such as calcium, which could have deleterious effects on health when such fruits are consumed; use of unapproved insecticide such as sniper for preservation of gains by unauthorised persons; use of containers contaminated with hazardous chemicals such as fertilizer bags for grains or chemical drums and jerry cans for food storage, which she stressed is a classical example of a common practice among the market men and women due to ignorance.

Other practices, she maintained, are unauthorised use of chemicals such as dichlorvos for storage of grains and other agricultural produce by unauthorised persons, which could lead to contamination of the stored products as well as exporters and dealers of agricultural commodities who spray hazardous pesticides on produce during storage to prevent damage by pests at the cost of human lives and public health.

She said another major concern receiving attention from NAFDAC are those associated with transportation of food, especially the use of trucks previously used for transporting fertilizers and other agrochemicals or other hazardous materials for transporting grains and other food commodities, as well as the use of petroleum tankers for transporting vegetable oil, water or other food products.

The NAFDAC DG also highlighted issues impacting negatively on food safety to include the use of non-food grade packaging materials, residue of printing ink, solvents, lubricants – oil and grease that contaminates packaging materials when appropriate precautionary measures are not taken during the manufacture of the packaging materials, as the chemicals subsequently migrates into the food product constituting hazard to consumers.

Other key issues, she noted include: “display of food products in the sun, which could produce harmful by-products such as benzene in soft drinks, mock packs for display, use of cast iron as food processing machines or equipment and utilities, which contaminates foods being processed with lead and other heavy metals, storage to protect food product from infestation by rodent and pests as well as prevention of contamination and degradation due to environmental factors, adulteration of palm oil with Sudan IV (azo dye), which is a dangerous practice that puts the lives of millions of Nigerians and others at risk and food fraud, which include, packaging of illicit alcohol falsely labeled and sold as spirit drinks which have expose the consumers to high level of contaminants such as methanol, which could sometimes claim innocent lives.”

She continued: “National food fortification compliance with vitamin A and salt iodisation, as statistics shows that compliance level requires some attention, use of unapproved food additives for preservation, flavouring, colouring and other technological needs, especially the use of potassium bromate as bread improver, which has been banned in Nigeria, routine inspections, with many violating facilities.

Adeyeye added that the main challenge facing enhancement of food safety in Nigeria today include, but not limited to, lack of awareness of impact of food safety on the socio-economic environment, lack of data and information on the incidence of food borne disease outbreaks and lack of understanding of food safety and quality standards as outlined in international agreement among several other factors.

She noted that the theme of the world event: “Food Safety, Everyone’s Business”, is a call to action for all stakeholders that food safety is a shared responsibility of the governments, producers, processors, suppliers, retailers, and consumers, with everyone in the food supply chain, as key player with a role to play from the farm to the table to ensure food is safe for human consumption.

“As we all know, food is consumed by all living things including plants to sustain life, hence access to sufficient, safe, wholesome and nutritious good is key to sustenance and good health. Food safety is indeed everyone’s business and every efforts should be made to ensure all actors in the food chain are actively included as stakeholders,” she maintained.

The NAFDAC DG, maintained that as part of measures to tackle the burning issue of food safety in Nigeria, a multi-pronged approach is required, which includes, mass education, public enlightenment campaigns targeting specific groups through the use of appropriate media such as social media, television, radio, newspapers, text messages, town hall meetings, market outreach, schools, churches and mosque, among other platforms.

Others, she said, include aggressive public campaign on food safety issues using stickers on vehicles, posters and billboards with pictorial messages that convey vivid imagery of food safety issues.

These, Adeyeye said, would go a long way in creating awareness and educating the public, as NAFDAC is actively working on it and seeking collaboration and cooperation of manufacturers and other stakeholders to achieve the common desired goal, which is safe food for all.

She said NAFDAC would also engage key sectoral groups such as the Association of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Employers (AFBTE), Association of Table Water Producers (ATWAP), National Association of Supermarket Operators of Nigeria (NASON), Association of Fast Food Confectioners of Nigeria (AFFCON), Cooperative Societies such as Ogbonge Women, Vegetable and Fruit Sellers Association, Master Bakers, Butchers Association and Civil Society among others.
She added that the agency would engage the National Union of Raid Transport Workers (NURTW), and the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) for them to buy into the mesaeg of food safety, as NAFDAC has had improved collaboration and engagements in the last one year with many stakeholders in the food sector.

Adeyeye, however, called on the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to place food borne diseases on the priority list of notifiable diseases in their surveillance activities published in their weekly Epidemiology Report, adding that it would help provide necessary data required for more fine-gained regulatory decisions regarding food safety.

Speaking in ways to curb food and feed fraud, Professor of Food Science and Safety, University of Calabar, Nigeria, Christine Ikpeme, said high level of poverty and corruption increases the risk of fraudulent activities in food and feed in Nigeria.

She said lack of control plan to protect individual brand has also creates room for people to fake products of reputatable companies to make money, leaving the image of the company tarnished in the public.

Ikpeme who presented a paper titled: “Emerging Food Safety Issues on Food or Feed Fraud – Challenges and Solutions”, said the legal framework for food and feed fraud, which is addressed in the Food Safety and Quality Bill as apolprives by the Federal Executive Council, provides the protection of the interest of consumers and als a basis for consumers to make their own choices in relation to the foods they consume.

It also helps to prevent fraudulent or deceptive practices and unwholesome production of food and any other practices that may lead to injuries to consumers’ health, as stated in part 4 which gives the general requirement for food and feed safety and quality, while section 10 and 11 makes provision for feed safety requirement for animals and consumable products for human consumption.

She added that the Billprovideds a framework for NAFDAC and any other regulatory agency to persecute offenders caught in fraudulent food and feed activities.

The professor said to protect the food supply chain, food policy makers and regulator must adopt critical tools such as rules, response and compliance activities, as well as strengthenjng the xuktre of food safety from the farm to the table of the consumers.

She explained that policymakers should build and maintain adequate food systems and infrastructures to respond to and manage food safety risks along the entire food chain, including during emergencies; foster multi-sectoral collaboration among public health, animal health, agriculture and other sectors for better communication and joint action as well as integrate food safety into broader food policies and programmes such as nutrition and food security, in order to ensure the food produce domestically be safe internationally

Ikpeme further added that food handlers and consumers must know the food they use, such as read labels on food package, make an informed choice and become familiar with common food hazards.

While the Professor of Food Science and Technology, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Lagos, Olugbenga Ogunmoyela, who presented a paper on “Today’s Food Safety Concerns: The Impact of Unsafe Food on Public Health”, lamented that Nigeria lacked data of the xatual burden of food Buren diseases in the country, more lives are koat to this challenge ravaging te entire African region.

He said, with the poor food safety practices in Nigeria, which exposes citizens to health hazards, achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 2, which indicates ‘zero hunger’ is extremely important to achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, adding that ultimate end is to ensure healthy minds and promote the wellbeing of everybody across all ages.

Ogunmoyela urged stakeholders in the food value chain to provide ndependent scientific assessments on microbiological and chemical hazards that form the basis for international food standards, guidelines and recommendations to ensure food is safe wherever it originates; as well as assessing the safety of new technologies used in food production, such as genetic modification and nanotechnology.

These, he said, would help improve national food systems and legal frameworks, and implement adequate infrastructure to manage food safety risks.


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