How safe is our food?
As Namibia joined the international community to commemorate the World Health Day, which was held on April 7, it is imperative to devise education and training programmes for those dealing with food especially food vendors and the consumers about the danger of mishandling food.
This year’s International World Health Day – under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) – was held under the theme “How safe is your food? From farm to plate, make food safe”.
The theme highlights the urgent need for government, non-governmental organisations, food outlets and consumers to put measures in place that will improve food safety from the point of production to consumption.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), unsafe food is linked to the deaths of an estimated 2 million people annually and the African region is without exception.
WHO further revealed that contaminated food is responsible for more than 200 diseases, including typhoid fever, diarrhoea and cancers.
It is also well-documented that food can become contaminated at any point of production and distribution, and food producers play a critical role in preventing this. Equally a large proportion of incidents of foodborne diseases are caused by improper handling, and preparation of food at home, in restaurants, or food markets where street vendors comes in.
Street food has become an important part of diet for many people as such food is easily accessible and affordable.
The food business plays an important role in providing employment opportunities for millions of men and women with limited education or skills, especially as the initial investment is low.
Although the street food sector has become an important component of food distribution system in many cities in both developing and industrialised countries, particularly for midday meals, certain street-vended food still poses significant risk to consumers due to microbiological contamination.
The risk is dependent primarily on the type of food, the method of preparation and the manner in which it is held before consumption.
In many countries, laws covering food safety and environmental hygiene have been enacted. However, most countries do not have specific regulations on street food safety.
On the other hand where such regulations exist, enforcement is a major problem considering the large number of street food vendors, and the fact that, for certain types of vendors, their mobility makes them difficult, if not impossible, to control.
As alluded before, vendors are often poorly educated and untrained in food safety.
They often work under unsanitary conditions with little or no infrastructure support. However research has shown that this can be improved if a sufficient number of vendors receive training in basic hygiene practices.
The street food vendors need to be aware of hygiene and sanitation aspects of street food vending and consumption.
In the case of Namibia, there is need for the Ministry of Health and Social Services to take the lead to educate vendors on food safety. And this must go hand in hand with provisions by local authorities to provide basic services such as running water and ablution facilities at selling points.
In a joint statement issued by the representatives of UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) in Namibia on April 7, UNICEF representative Micaela De Sousa said there was an urgent need for all food handlers and consumers to understand the importance of adopting basic hygienic practices when buying, selling and preparing food to protect their health and that of the wider community, especially that of the children in Namibia.
In the same statement Jennifer Bitonde of the WFP explained that countries needed “to share the responsibility of ensuring food safety by complying with international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice covering all the main foods and processes if the health of consumers is to be guaranteed”.
Although Namibia has made commendable progress to promote safe food practices, I concur with the UN officials who called on the government to prioritise food safety, align policies in agriculture, trade, health, education, social protection and mobilise adequate financial resources to make food safe for all.