Food safety: Public health priority

Food safety: Public health priority

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Food safety is a scientific discipline that is involved with the handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent food-borne illnesses. It encompasses a number of routines, measures, practices and procedures that should be followed to ensure the production of food and food products that are safe, fit and wholesome for the public, with the objective of preventing potentially severe health hazards.

Food safety considerations include the origins of food, including the practices relating to food labelling, food hygiene, food additives and pesticide residues, as well as policies on biotechnology and food guidelines for the management of governmental import and export inspection and certification systems.

According to Dr. Bayo Awoyele, a veterinary doctor and expert on food safety procedures, “The issue of food safety has become an integral part of public health, with its tentacles penetrating into the food businesses, legislation, international trade, security and even the sociological view of many. In fact, food safety is one of the major cost effective and preventive methods our nation can employ to keep the citizens healthy, because the availability of safe food is a basic human right, and it improves the health and productivity of people.”

Awoyele adds, “All over the world, people are becoming increasingly concerned about the health risks posed by microbial pathogens and potentially hazardous chemicals in food. In fact, up to one-third of the population of developed countries is affected by food-borne illnesses each year, and the problem is even more widespread in developing countries like ours.

“In addition, beyond contributing to our health and productivity, safe food provides an effective platform for development and poverty alleviation. The poor are the most susceptible to ill-health. Food- and water-borne diarrhoeal diseases, for example, are leading causes of illness and death in less developed countries, including Nigeria, killing an estimated 2.2 million people annually, most of whom are children.”

The recent trends in global food production, processing, distribution and preparation present new challenges to food safety because food grown in one country can now be transported and consumed halfway across the world. In addition, many people eat outside their homes because they spend more time at work. Breakfasts and lunch are sourced mostly from the numerous restaurants, canteens and fast food joints. Unfortunately, most of the food business units do not understand their primary role of providing safe food for the public. They consider their profit first, before the safety of their customers.

Awoyele concludes by saying that, “The average Nigerian does not know he has the right to safe food. They use their hard earned money to buy poisonous and contaminated food. Customer illness that is traced to a contaminated food from a restaurant, fast food joint or even an airline will lead to bad publicity, damaged reputation and loss of trade, which may ultimately result in prosecution and business closure.

“For us to rise over the ever-growing challenge of food safety, I strongly believe we must take the subject of food risk analysis very seriously. The government, food business and food companies need to see the urgent need to introduce this concept into their mode of operation.”

I implore all relevant government agencies, airlines, food businesses and companies to increase enlightenment on the issue of food safety because every Nigerian has the right to safe food. Ensure the provision of basic food safety training for at least one person in your employ and make sure your business implements relevant food safety systems.

Risk Analysis is a process consisting of three components: risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. A food safety management system that employs food risk analysis is the key to safe, fit and wholesome food for the public.

Theoretically speaking, food poisoning is 100 per cent preventable if the basic principles of food hygiene are observed. Basic food safety principles include the following:

Understanding the hazards associated with the main types of food and the conditions to prevent the growth of bacteria, which can cause food poisoning; and to prevent illness.
Potential problems associated with product packaging such as leaks in vacuum packs, damage to packaging or pest infestation, as well as problems and diseases spread by pests.
Safe food handling and packaging procedures for each process such as receiving, re-packing, food storage, preparation and cooking, cooling and re-heating, displaying products, handling products when serving customers, packaging, cleaning and sanitising, pest control, transport and delivery.
Correct cleaning and sanitising procedures, cleaning products and their correct use, and the storage of cleaning items such as brushes, mops and cloths.
Proper personal hygiene procedures for staff, including hand washing, illness, and protective clothing.

In summary, to prevent contaminating food with pathogens that spread from people, pets and pests, separate raw and cooked foods to prevent contaminating the cooked foods; cook foods for the appropriate length of time and at the appropriate temperature to kill pathogens; store food at the proper temperature; ensure personal hygiene procedures, and use safe water.

Have a splendid weekend.

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