What State should do to ensure food we eat is safe

The recent government alert that several brands of maize meals are contaminated with aflatoxins has sent panic among Kenyans. Yet, some of those who had already bought the products may not discard them because of lack of knowledge.

Many Kenyans are not sure if they should trust the rest of the brands. The latest revelations may also explain why cases of cancer have doubled in the recent past. Some of the questions that need answers are; does the government have a budget to educate Kenyans on what they consume? Has Parliament failed to make laws to ensure food Kenyans eat is safe?

Some have blamed it on poor enforcement and monitoring, lack of political goodwill and corruption. Even then, what is the correct position of the law as far as food safety is concerned? Food is considered safe if there is reasonable demonstration that no harm will result from its consumption under anticipated conditions of use. 

Food must be produced, processed, handled, packed, stored and transported or shipped hygienically. Contamination can occur at any point of maize flour supply chain.

It can happen at the farm, during transportation, storage, processing, distribution or at home, depending on pre-exposure conditions. Aflatoxins can contribute to, among others, immunosuppressive health effects in the body. The adverse effects include chronic diseases such as liver cancer, haemorrhage and even death. 

Uncoordinated food safety and control activities, poor harmonisation of standards and regulations, lack of consumer awareness, inadequate capacity building of stakeholders along the value chain and poor management of waste in markets where heaps of rotting garbage are deposited are some of issues we must deal with.

Monitoring and surveillance systems are weak. There is also lack of traceability systems which means no one can be held accountable for unsafe food. The government should provide interventions that would restore consumer confidence.

Stakeholders must also join efforts to achieve the overall goal on food safety. To start with, let’s accept we have failed and develop an action plan. This can be through the long-awaited Food Safety Policy 2013, currently under review, to create an authority that will guarantee food safety. All stakeholders, including consumer organisations, must be included.

Japheth Ogutu, Executive Director, Consumer Downtown Association (CDA).