Skip to content

Imperative of enforcement of Food Safety Standards

By Ayo Oyoze Baje

One aspect of the food industry in Nigeria that still experiences huge gap between existing laws as and their enforcement is that of food safety. According to Jane Ezirigwe in her research paper titled: ”Muchado about food safety regulation in Nigeria” about 1 in 10 people in the world fall sick after eating food contaminated through improper farming, processing, preservation and services.

Narrowing it down to Nigeria, she pointed out that more than 200,000 persons die of food poison annually, caused by sundry contaminated foods. The cost of illnesses associated with food borne diseases in Nigeria is estimated at US$3.6 billion per annum. Though there is poor data collection on food-borne outbreaks, there are ample empirical evidences to show that these contribute to ill health and eat in the country. Such consumption and the attendant ill health contribute to reduction in productivity and economic growth.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO/World Health Organization, WHO Regional Conference on Food Safety for Africa that was jointly held in Harare, Zimbabwe, (3-6 October 2005) reports indicate the illness due to contaminated food is perhaps the most widespread health problem in the contemporary world. It is an important cause that has reduced socio economic productivity. The theme of the conference was ‘National Food Safety Systems In Africa: A Situation Analysis’.

Infact, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that about a decade ago ,at least 500 million people on earth, majority of them children, suffered from malnutrition and hunger. These people were largely found in those parts of the world where the food they had, were mostly susceptible to contamination by agents of diseases. Hence, the need to enforce food safety regulations.

Food safety standards refer to the formal documents containing the requirements that foods or food processors have to comply with to safeguard human health. They are implemented by authorities and enforced by law; and are usually developed and published under the auspices of a national standards body.

Though the National Policy on Food Safety aims to integrate and harmonize all existing laws, standards and codes that regulate food safety practices in Nigeria, evidences on ground point to lack of impact on food production, transportation methods, preservation and down to the food preparation and services at the level of street side eateries popularly called ‘bukas’.

The average Nigerian should be made to understand that the Federal Ministry of Health is responsible for the formulation of National policies, guidelines and regulations on food hygiene and safety, aswell as the monitoring of implementation. NAFDAC is responsible for the control of imported and locally processed foods and bottled water at Federal and State levels.

They should be duly informed that the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) is responsible for formulation and enforcement of set standards on the composition of imported andlocally manufactured food. And that the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for good agricultural practices and monitoring of new agricultural technologies.

Also important is for them to know that the Local Government Authority is responsible for Street Food-Vending, Bukaterias, Catering establishments, and traditional markets.

In the absence of such vital knowledge the ignorant consumers are severally left at risk. As aptly captured by Ezirigwe, “studies and existing acts reveal that lawmakers, enforcement officers ,regulators, food handlers and even the consuming public do not take food safety very seriously”. The cases of food borne outbreaks in Nigeria reveal that the present regulatory frame work might not have impacted on the informal sector that serves the majority of the Nigerian consumers.

There is little doubt that the regulators face various challenges in the discharge of their duties. But for their enforcement to become more meaningful the inter-governmental and the multi-agency cooperation envisaged by the National Policy on Food Safety and its Implementation Strategy, 2014 should be acted upon.

It has become imperative therefore, that Nigerians get to know much more about the existing food regulations across the food value chain system, as their enforcement would benefit their health and wellbeing. They have to be more informed about key words such as Food Safety, Food-borne Illnesses, Food Regulation and Food Security and how they apply to them as individuals and communities.

Similarly, they should be told that the term “food law” applies to legislation which regulates the production, trade and handling of food. It covers the regulation of food control, food safety, quality and relevant aspects of food trade across the entire food chain, from the provision for animal feed to the consumer.

It is important for instance, for them, especially the house wives and cook stounder stand the 5 basic rules of food safety in the kitchen. These include the washing of hands between steps of food preparation, that of sanitizing work surfaces in the kitchen, the use of separate cutting boards for raw meats, vegetables and produce, and cooked foods. Others include cooking foods to safe temperatures and of course, keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

With time and more knowledge dissemination they will come to understand that modern technology has comeup with a Beverage Testing with your Smartphone. According to the Merck Team the MQuant ®Strip Scan mobile appcando the job. It is based on the tests of pH and nitrate content that are two key parameters that ensure the quality and safety of food and beverage products.

The issue of food safety is so important to human health and economic productivity that the former President Barack Obama of the United States had to sign the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA). It was in response to Congress’ efforts to address the food safety issue demands of abroad coalition of stakeholders. These included produce growers, food processors, retailers, and consumers who were disturbed by a series of illness outbreaks and contamination incidents.

Food Is not only a biological need, but a very vital and basic necessity of life. This is why since early times man has continued to evolve ways of safeguarding and maintaining a steady supply of whole some and nutritious food. It has also become an economic and political weapon in many countries of the world.

In several instances, it is constantly used as a potential source of family break-ups and socio-political problems in communities and nations. It is common knowledge that the custom of eating out which was once limited to special occasions, has become embedded in our culture. This is because of the state of economy and urban pressure like metropolitan growth, distance from home to work or school and long hours of employment of women outside the home.

Furthermore, hotels, hospitals, industry and school establishments also routinely provide meals for their customers, employees and students. The attendance errors resulting from these are lack of proper safety and sanitation in food management.

According to WHO:“ A good National Food Hygiene and Safety Policy will improve the wholesomeness of available food, create better nutritional awareness, improve health status, and improve food trade and economic development”. Nigeria should key into this assertion.