Activating our pledge for optimal safety of African food systems

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We congratulate the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition for committing to the food systems approach to advancing our mutual accountability of ensuring safe and nutritionally balanced food supply for populations. The fifth policy brief focusing on: Assuring food Safety Systems: Policy Options for a Healthier Food Supply” will certainly draw attention of policy makers to prioritise the sanitisation of our food systems against biological, chemical and physical hazards while reinforcing partnerships for sustainable nutrition sensitive food systems aligned with the ICN-2 Rome Declaration and its framework for action of 60-key recommendations under 15 thematic areas including food safety.

Preceding the final recommendations on accountability, the framework for action of the Rome Declaration on Nutrition, highlighted the following key recommendations (53 to 57) on food safety and antimicrobial resistance; calling on States to develop, establish, enforce and strengthen, as appropriate, food control systems, including reviewing and modernising national food safety policies, legislation and regulations. The stakeholders were admonished to take active part in the work of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission on nutrition and food safety. It further called on States to participate in and contribute to international networks to exchange food safety information, including for managing emergencies and raising awareness among relevant stakeholders on the problems posed by antimicrobial resistance, including prudent use of antimicrobials in veterinary and human medicine.

Food safety and food consumption considerations should also be coupled with factors that are increasingly leading to high levels of non-communicable diseases through the gradual reduction of saturated fat, sugars, sodium and trans-fatty acids from foods and beverages to prevent excessive intake by consumers while improving the availability and affordability of nutrient dense and nutritionally balanced foods. Measures should be taken by governments to improve farm practices, processing, storage, preservation, transport and distribution technologies and infrastructure for food safety. With growing international concern over unsafe food, policies in agriculture and the food system should be designed to ensure both the nutritional quality and the safety of our foods supply.

In Africa harmonised food safety and regulatory frameworks will create economy of scale and promote sustainable intra-regional trade and compliance to food safety and quality standards. As highlighted in the Policy Brief, national government structures and regulatory institutions should work with private sector and civil society to promote sensitisation on food safety, hygiene and sanitation while promoting healthy dietary habits at all levels; national, provincial and district or local community levels.

The minimum standard requirements and specifications for ensuring the safety of consumers based on compositional, quality and labelling requirements should be enforced. Food regulatory authorities could incentives for increasing compliance by food businesses and operators following monitoring of food inspection systems, surveillance and conformity assessments.  

Consumer sensitisation and awareness on food handling; washing of food, how utensils are cleaned, whether the food is properly chilled or heated, how it is stored and re-used are all key for maximum prevention of foodborne hazards. Consumers need to be aware of the basic principles of food safety and healthy food and willing to apply good practices both at home and when eating out of homes. 

By Mohamed Ag Bendech and Mawuli Sablah, FAO Regional Office for Africa


 Download the policy brief “Assuring Safe Food Systems”

Read also: ‘Healthier food supply: what you worry about and what makes you sick is not the same‘, by Delia Grace, ILRI

Image: CIFOR