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Why our role in ensuring national food safety by controlling food chain is key

Retailers in Mathare Slum wait for customers to buy their groceries. Prices of Farm produce have dropped drastically following the closure of institutions like schools that used to purchase the commodity in large quantities. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Food safety is the assurance that food will not cause adverse health effects for the consumer when prepared and/or consumed in accordance with its intended use.
It relates to presence of safety hazards in food at the time of consumption. Food safety hazards can be biological, chemical or physical agents in food. Biological hazards include pathogenic microorganisms that cause diseases such as Cholera, Hepatitis A and Typhoid among others.
The microorganisms include bacteria, viruses and parasites. Aflatoxins, preservatives above allowable limits, pesticides used in vegetables and veterinary drugs for treating animals are examples of chemical hazards. Physical hazards on the other hand, are foreign substances that can physically injure the consumer such as bones in fish fillet and stones in grains.
Such hazards can and are known to occur at any stage of the food chain. Adequate control throughout the food chain is therefore essential to ensure food safety.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 600 million people fall ill and 420,000 die annually globally, from consuming contaminated food. A 2015 WHO report on estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases, indicates that the real tragedy of foodborne diseases is played out in the
developing world.
Unsafe processing water, poor food-production processes and food handling, inappropriate use of agricultural chemicals, improper food storage and poorly enforced regulatory standards contribute to a high-risk food safety environment. The rise of cancer, liver and kidney diseases in recent years has also been attributed to diet, specifically related to chemical contaminants in food.
The collaboration of all actors in the food chain is therefore imperative to ensure food safety, including but not limited to primary producers (crop and livestock farmers), food manufacturers, manufacturers of food packaging material, transporters and distributors of food products, manufacturers of chemicals such as cleaning agents used in the food industry, manufacturers of food processing equipment and retailers such as supermarkets, who handle food and off er ready to eat food.
Considering the recent food safety incidences involving products processed in Kenya, such as presence of aflatoxin in peanut butter and maize flour and high levels of sodium metabisulphite in meat, it is imperative that the food industry implements a risk-based proactive and preventive approach, to give an assurance of food safety to consumers. These incidences led to the recall of products by the manufacturers and retailers from the market. Implementation of a food safety management system based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles, published by Codex Alimentarius Commission (the international body that develops food standards), is key for food practitioners to control hazards.
These principles assist an organisation in identifying significant food safety hazards in relation to their products and operations, and provide guidance in control measures to prevent their occurrence or reduce them to acceptable levels in food.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) develops food standards that provide guidelines on limits of food safety hazards allowed based on Codex guidelines, which food manufacturers must comply with.
These guidelines are the basis for testing and certification of products through the product certification scheme run by KEBS, which allows manufacturers to offer these products for sale. The standards also guide the inspection and testing of imported products to ensure their quality and safety. Kebs, through its Certifi cation Body (CB) additionally offers voluntary management systems certification to various ISO and Kenya standards. Kebs CB is accredited to offer certification by the Dutch Accreditation body (RvA) of The Netherlands and Kenya Accreditation Service (KENAS) and is also licensed by the Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) Foundation.
These bodies assess the certification processes, to give an assurance and confidence that the services meet international standards. Kebs CB has certified over 50 companies under food safety management systems. Among the food safety certifications offered by KEBS CB are: FSSC 22000 – A private scheme
owned by FSSC Foundation; ISO 22000 in line with ISO 22000: 2018; HACCP certification based on Codex HACCP principles; and Food Hygiene certification for Catering Establishments in line with the requirements of KS 2573 (Kenya Standard on Hygiene Requirements in foodservice establishments and catering operations). The CB collaborates with the Kebs National Quality Institute who offer tailored training that suits the needs of any organisation irrespective of size or products manufactured, to enhance knowledge in food safety systems in the food industry.
A major incentive to implementing a food safety management system is the ability to consistently provide safe products that meet customer requirements. This results in reduced customer complaints, increased trust of product brands and loyalty by consumers, leading to increased sales and higher profit margins.
Additionally, organisations are able to identify and address food safety and business risks and meet the legal requirements applicable to their operations and products, hence reduced risks of litigation.
Naomi Kitur, Principal Food Safety Systems Certification Officer, Kebs

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