Five Important Questions on Food Safety

As World Food Safety month comes to an end, we know you are hungry to find out more about the role of standards. We put questions to Hakim Mufumbiro, the Principal Standards Officer in charge of the Food and Agriculture Standards Division, Regional Coordinator for the Codex Committee for Africa, Coordinator for the EAC Codex Forum and a member of the National Codex Committee.

Mr. Hakim Mufumbiro

Why do we need to highlight the importance of food safety? Aren’t the laws and regulations enough to give us confidence in what we buy and eat? 

Food Safety is everyone’s responsibility, from production to consumption. It is important to re-echo the need for all those responsible for different aspects to take action. The impacts of unsafe food to health and the economy are very severe and can affect anyone considering that majority of us consume some form of food on a daily basis. The current law (Food and Drugs Act, Cap 278 of 1959) is not only archaic but the Food component has never been operationalised. In effect, there is no single body responsible for food safety control and management in the country. We have multiple agencies such as MAAIF, MoH, NDA, DDA, UCDA, and UNBS each with its own mandate and in some cases conflicting. This situation needs to change sooner than later, otherwise the Government will be overwhelmed with the many emerging issues in Food trade such as intentional adulteration and fraud. For lack of a better word, the legal framework for food control system in Uganda is almost like a “jungle”.

COVID-19 has shaken our country and many parts of the world are experiencing lockdowns and confinement, disruptions to food supplies and much more. How has this shaped our attitudes and behaviours around food? 

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. Whereas there is no tangible evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be been transmitted by food, the pandemic has sharpened the focus on food safety-related issues, such as hygiene and good manufacturing practices. There has been tremendous growth in internet/e-commerce sales of food over the last one year which provides good relief to ensure consistent food supplies to the population but also poses potential safety concerns given the limitation in regulation by the Competent Authorities of the service providers.

For some people, working from home, teleworking, and on-line or internet discussions and meetings are now normal practices. Food industry personnel, however, do not have the opportunity to work from home and are required to continue to work in their usual workplaces. Keeping all workers in the food production and supply chains healthy and safe is critical to surviving the current pandemic. Maintaining the movement of food along the food chain is an essential function to which all stakeholders along the food chain need to contribute. This is also required to maintain trust and consumer confidence in the safety and availability of food.

The food industry should have Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles in place to manage food safety risks and prevent food contamination.

What extra challenges are we facing due to the global pandemic, and what can we do to protect ourselves? 

Within the Food Safety context, the Pandemic has called for vigilance especially in retail stores when handling food packaging from one customer to another. This calls for upholding the SOPs most especially sanitising before and after shopping. Continued vigilance and consuming more fruits and vegetables to boost our immunity will keep us going and eventually overcome the current pandemic.

CODEX Alimentarius is aimed at improving food safety throughout the food supply chain, locally and internationally. It references a number of ISO standards such as ISO 22000. How can international standards help to ensure food safety? 

Codex Standards are based on the best available science and reference made to it in the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS Agreement) means that Codex has far-reaching implications for resolving trade disputes. WTO members that wish to apply stricter food safety measures than those set by Codex may be required to justify these measures scientifically. By making reference and applying Codex Standards, a Country like Uganda stands better chances of improving food safety systems and ensuring that the food consumed domestically and that exported is of the right standards.  International food trade is a 2 trillion dollar a year industry, with billions of tonnes of food produced, marketed and transported.

What is your favourite food? 

I would not miss millet, sweet potatoes, pumpkin served with dried fish mixed with groundnut sauce.

Hakim has been involved in national, regional and international standards setting for over 10 years. He has held the position of Secretary to the National Codex Committee and Coordinator of the EAC Codex Forum. In 2021, he has taken up the role of Coordinator for the Codex Committee for Africa overseeing the development of regional Codex standards and related Food Safety activities within the 49 members of Codex in Africa.