By Hakim Mufumbiro
Everyone has the right to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. This right is enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda. However, almost one in ten people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food. When food is not safe, children cannot learn, adults cannot work and human development cannot take place. Safe food is critical to promoting health and ending hunger, two of the primary goals of the 2030 Agenda – Sustainable Development Goals. There is no food security without food safety and in a world where the food supply chain has become more complex, any adverse food safety incidents may have global negative effects on public health, trade and the economy.
Food is an indispensable human need but may also be a silent vehicle for microbial, chemical and physical hazards. Food-borne diseases (FBD) outbreaks in the African region is a major public health concern for all. With an estimated 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses annually, unsafe food is a threat to human health and economies globally. Growing and consistent focus on food safety in Africa including increasing consumer demands for safer foods have highlighted the varying levels of technical capacity required to address the food safety challenges that exists within the continent. Uganda has in the past had the brunt of unsafe food that has resulted in registering significant cases of cholera and typhoid in the population.
Effective food safety and quality control systems are key not only to safeguarding the health and well-being of people, but also to fostering economic development and improving livelihoods by promoting access to domestic, regional and international markets.
During the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly while adopting the resolution to designate 7th of June as the World Food Safety Day (WFSD), it was noted that improving food safety contributes positively to trade, employment and poverty alleviation and recognized the urgent need to raise awareness at all levels and to promote and facilitate actions for global food safety, on the basis of scientific principles, in line with the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and PhytoSanitary Measures of the World Trade Organization.
The critical importance of food safety has been amplified more than ever before during the unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic which has called for the food industry to innovate to keep in production in order to ensure that food is not only available but also remains safe.
The 2nd observance of WFSD on 7th June 2020 promises to leverage on the momentum created from the previous celebrations in order to raise awareness and the profile of food safety in the Country. This is critical to maintain the trust and consumer confidence in the safety and availability of food.
This international day on food safety is an opportunity to strengthen efforts and to recognize the people who help to keep our food safe. Whether you grow, process, transport, store, distribute, sell, prepare, serve or consume food, you have a vital role in keeping it safe. Food safety is a shared responsibility and a fundamental element for the life and health of the human race.
This year’s efforts will focus to ensure that:
- Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government (policy makers) responsible for food control continue to ensure safe and nutritious food for the 44 million Ugandans through promoting sustainable agriculture and food systems, fostering multi-sectoral collaboration among public health, animal health, agriculture, trade and other sectors;
- Agriculture and food producers (farmers) adopt and implement good farming practices to ensure a sufficient supply of safe food while addressing potential risks to ensure that food is safe;
- Food business operators (manufactures / processors /importers / transporters / restaurants / supermarkets) apply preventive controls and programmes such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) throughout the operations to address most of the food safety problems;
- Implementation of food hygiene practices in the entire food chain including at household level as well as open/closed markets, fresh produce and food displays across the country is enhanced;
- The five keys to safer food (keep clean; separate raw and cooked; cook thoroughly; keep food at safe temperatures; and use safe water and raw materials) are applied effectively by all actors across entire operations;
- Consumers are empowered to make healthy food choices for themselves and support sustainable food systems for the Country; and
- Food safety responsibility is equitably shared among the varying stakeholders in the food chain.
Uganda National Bureau of Standards as the Codex Contact for Uganda remains steadfast in developing, promoting and enforcing standards including food safety related specifications in order to protect the health and safety of consumer while guaranteeing fair trade practices.
The writer is a Principal Standards Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards