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Red alert over rising cases of food poisoning, deaths

By Chukwuma Muanya
04 March 2015   |   11:00 pm
•  Akanji says 99% of Nigerians eat outside, adverse  events under reported • Wants manufacturers to acquire formal HACCP training to meet technical specifications WORRIED by the rising cases of food poisoning and related deaths in the country, a consultant on safety in health and environment and Managing Consultant at First HACCP System, Mrs. Zainab Akanji, have…


•  Akanji says 99% of Nigerians eat outside, adverse  events under reported • Wants manufacturers to acquire formal HACCP training to meet technical specifications

WORRIED by the rising cases of food poisoning and related deaths in the country, a consultant on safety in health and environment and Managing Consultant at First HACCP System, Mrs. Zainab Akanji, have called for the establishment of Food Standards Agency of Nigeria (FSAN). 

     HACCP is Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. First HACCP System Limited is an international leader in HACCP training, health and safety training, food safety and hygiene training, certification, auditing, fumigation, safety, health and environment consultancy (SHE). First HACCP are registered trainers and a centre of Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) United Kingdom (UK). 

       Akanji said the proposed Food Standards Agency would be an independent government department responsible for food safety and hygiene across Nigeria just like the FSA in UK. She said the FSAN would work with businesses to help them produce safe food, and with local authorities to enforce food safety regulations.

     Akanji said despite the presence of regulatory agencies such as Lagos State Safety Commission, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Health and the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in the food safety and health sectors, there is poor enforcement of the processes.

     Akanji explained that the HACCP approach to food safety is based on a detailed examination of every stage in the production process for an individual food product, with an objective to identifying where and when hazards could occur and to design effective controls for each hazard.

     She said many food manufacturers also require formal HACCP training be carried out to satisfy technical standards such as British Retail Consortium Global Standard and ISO 22000.

      According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), unsafe food is linked to the deaths of an estimated two million people annually – including many children. Food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances is responsible for more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.

        WHO in a press statement ahead of the World Health Day 2015 on April 7 said: “New threats to food safety are constantly emerging. Changes in food production, distribution and consumption; changes to the environment; new and emerging pathogens; antimicrobial resistance – all pose challenges to national food safety systems. Increases in travel and trade enhance the likelihood that contamination can spread internationally.”

     The topic for World Health Day 2015 is food safety.

     According to the WHO, as food supply becomes increasingly globalized, the need to strengthen food safety systems in and between all countries is becoming more and more evident. That is why the WHO is promoting efforts to improve food safety, from farm to plate (and everywhere in between) on World Health Day, 7 April 2015.

     WHO helps countries prevent, detect and respond to food borne disease outbreaks – in line with the Codex Alimentarius, a collection of international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice covering all the main foods and processes. Together with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), WHO alerts countries to food safety emergencies through an international information network.

     Indeed, food safety is a shared responsibility. It is important to work all along the food production chain – from farmers and manufacturers to vendors and consumers. For example, WHO’s Five keys to safer food offer practical guidance to vendors and consumers for handling and preparing food: Keep clean; Separate raw and cooked food; Cook food thoroughly; Keep food at safe temperatures; and Use safe water and raw materials.

      World Health Day 2015 is an opportunity to alert people working in different government sectors, farmers, manufacturers, retailers, health practitioners – as well as consumers – about the importance of food safety, and the part each can play in ensuring that everyone can feel confident that the food on their plate is safe to eat.

      Meanwhile, Akanji said First HACCP provides specialized and tailored training and consultancy services to all sectors of industries- oil and gas sector, food industries, government organisation, cooperate organisation, amongst others ranging from small, medium-sized through to big industries. She said the company also provides consultancy services to all catering and hospitality industries throughout UK and Africa and help all types of catering businesses including hotels, pubs, restaurants, shops, cafe, bed and breakfasts, nurseries, schools, residential homes, care homes, hospitals, airline services and oil companies.

       Akanji the company helps in the implementation of HACCP and other health and safety courses like occupational health, first aid, fire safety, chemical safety, kids safety among others.

     Why the special interest on the issue of food safety? She explained: “Because I realize that there are a lot of food businesses and food businesses constitute more than fifty per cent of industries in Nigeria. In most cases people go out to eat, you see eateries everywhere and there are food-manufacturing companies. We are always eating because food is an important thing in human life.    

      “So I feel there is need because most times a lot of people fall sick, there is high increase in diseases now traced back to food issues and when you compromise food safety it causes adverse effect on people ranging from cancer to stomach ache, diarrhoea. In fact almost everybody in the world has had food poisoning case at one point or another either from the minute one of frequent going to the toilet, to vomiting, to the acute one that sometimes people don’t live to tell the stories, which causes death sometimes due to the contamination of food.”

      How does First HACCP System Limited come in? “Our company helps in training food businesses ranging from the small business, the caterers, retailers, and food manufacturing companies. We train food handlers on how to implement food safety management system, which is the HACCP and we sometimes work as consultants, we help industries in inspecting their premises to ensure that they are complying with the food safety law and food safety standard and we also help in the logistic aspect by maybe if you want to set up a food company and you need the right equipment in place, we help in doing that.”

     How about the issue of regulation and enlightenment as regards to food safety in Nigeria? Akanji explained: “I think my rating for enlightenment is very poor. A lot of people don’t know what food safety is, they don’t know what it means to them and you see people dying after consuming poor hygienic food and you don’t see people coming out to say the cause of this thing is probably food poisoning.”

     How can this be addressed? “Sensitization and sensitization. People need to be sensitized. The federal government, state government and the local government need to ensure that people are sensitized, that the issue of food safety is of high paramount. We do other things but we concentrate on food safety because health is wealth.”

      What other things do your company do apart from food safety? Akanji explained: “We do health and safety. Sometimes we even go to school to ensure that the foods kids eat are safe may be caterers that bring in food for children because we know that immune system of kids are easily compromised. So we go to schools to ensure that the food given to the kids are safe. There was incidence that happened in Japan where many kids died because they consumed contaminated food. ”

      Who and who are your target audiences? “All manufacturing industries, schools, all kinds of food industries, and all multinational companies,” Akanji said.

       Why the new drive? “I just want my company to be known. I just started this business in Nigeria about two years ago. I had been working in the UK. The craving for it is not as it is in the UK where health and safety is of high paramount. Here nobody is talking about it, it is not so much, and people get away with cutting corners. If you go to industries you realize that people don’t know what they are doing, at the end of the day they have accidents based on they are work related and their employers are not doing anything about it,” she said.

      Is there no legislation to that effect? “There is but it is just accumulating dust, the enforcement is not there, it is like when you go to other countries. Even when I went to Ghana lately, they have started the implementation of HACCP and its so sad that we are having university students that is food science students going Ghana to learn about HACCP. This is very sad. HACCP should be a course that is taught in universities and also addressing food science students in universities. It is actually something they should be trained about. They train them but there is no certification unlike in other countries,” Akanji said.

     So you are saying there should be a coordinating body? She explained: “There should be a coordinating body that does that for universities and others.”

    Are you saying that there is no regulating body for food safety in Nigeria? Akanji further explained: “There are like the Lagos State Safety Commission, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Health and the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). I am not saying they are not working but more has to be done. How much surveillance have we had on food related cause? How many research have been carried out on food safety issues? How many reports are we having on the incidence of food poisoning? We are not having any report and these are things that are supposed to be in the public domain. 

      “There is something the Food Standard Agency (FSA) in the UK developed to help food businesses especially small food businesses that are battling with because they know a of people eat out and on regular basis they keep record they have report of cases of food-borne illnesses so they so they have to do something called Safe Food Better Business (SFBB) pack for all catering organisations to help them implement HACCP in a more effective way. This is a thing Nigerian government can also work on, they can adopt similar things because whether we like it or not majority that is 99 per cent of Nigerians eat out on a regular basis and some don’t even live to tell the stories. I have heard someone telling me once that she ate rice and she was hospitalized for seven days even rice, which is a common food for everybody in the country caused food-borne illness if not properly handled.

      “There is need for such body in Nigeria. There has to be a separate body like FSA coordinating food safety in the country. We hardly here about food poison cases in Nigeria because nobody is keeping that record. In the hospitals for instance, nobody will tell you that okay this is the number of people that came with food poisoning this year, how many people were hospitalized, how many people died? There is no report on that and those cases are not reported. Even when people know they keep quite because nobody holds them responsible. There was a day I went to eat out with my husband and his friends. Immediately I tasted the fish I realized that this fish did not taste right but I stopped eating it. By the time I got home, throughout the middle of the night up till the next morning I was just throwing up. I knew it was food poisoning symptoms that I had but when I went to the hospital the doctor just confirmed that I had food poisoning incident and the report wasn’t kept. Even when I report it nobody will go to the place to investigate it. Nobody will go nowhere to report that I ate in so place and I am having stomach pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, having stomach cramp and having this illness. Nobody is going to hold the person responsible because they don’t even have a standard to show are they actually keeping food safe? 

     “If they have a standard to check what food businesses are doing on regular basis, everybody is just about producing the food. There is need for a body like the FSA where you can report these cases. But nobody is reporting. How many of these agencies or regulatory bodies have places where people can lay complaints and people are aware of that people can even call to report incidences. Working in Nigeria, I have done a bit of inspection in these industries and what I have find is sad because I am aware of this and I reduce the rate I eat outside. As I said 99 per cent of Nigerians eat outside because sometimes you are going out early and coming back late and you need to eat. Food is very important and everyone eats because we can’t survive without food.”