Why we must do more to improve our food safety standards

Unsafe food causes 600 million cases of foodborne diseases each year worldwide and 420,000 deaths. [iStockphoto]

Food safety for animal and human nutrition is a public health concern worldwide. Food safety is sensitive to a country’s social stability and development and needs to be prioritised as an area of concern.

The level of food safety has direct and indirect effects on national security, the economy and social development and must be maintained through strict adherence to food standards.

The food the public or our animals consume should inspire confidence that they are not in danger of contamination. The prevalence of unsafe foods that aid in spreading foodborne illnesses continues to negatively impact economic development by eroding human health standards.

In Kenya, there have been several incidents recently of contaminated food harming learners, especially in schools. It is concerning that conversations about food safety are only incident-based and hardly capture national attention regularly. We must sustain conversations about food safety beyond the regulatory environment.

I am delighted that the Food and Feed Safety Control Coordination Bill (National Assembly Bill No. 21 of 2023) is making good progress in Parliament and we might soon have a solid law to sustain food safety.

The quality of the food we consume has socio-economic ramifications in the case of productivity, as food safety is a crucial pillar for food security. According to WHO, unsafe food causes 600 million cases of foodborne diseases each year worldwide and 420,000 deaths. Thirty per cent of foodborne deaths occur among children under five years of age. 

A healthy country means a productive population contributing to national development without suffering foodborne diseases. Having the appropriate checks on food safety can boost international trade and reputation and boost businesses for domestic producers who export food.

We can boost food safety by investing in food safety training at various levels. Food companies should constantly train their staff to identify hazards while handling their products. They must also ensure adherence to food safety standards. If it entails packaging food safely, which materials and preservatives should be used? If we are partnering with food delivery services, what standards should be set to avoid food contamination?

Farmers should also be trained on how to handle food in their farms. Recently, a report revealed that farmers were using toxic pesticides which impact food safety because of the chemicals they contain. We can educate farmers on the best pesticides to use. They should also be guided on the safe ways to store their produce after harvest. 

Secondly, we need stronger legislation and policies to food contamination. The National Food Safety Policy of 2021 is meant to protect and promote consumer health and harmonising food safety standards and regulations.

Lack of sufficient resources by oversight and regulatory bodies restricts their mandate to function. This also makes them prone to corruption which puts public health at risk. Strong laws will safeguard against food adulteration for quick economic gains. 

-Mr Bargurei is the Unga Group Strategy and Innovations Director. [email protected]