E-Mag

Prioritizing food safety in Ghana

By: Mohammed Lawal (Africa Centre of Excellence for Mycotoxin and Food Safety – ACEMFS)

Food safety is the assurance that food, after production or preparation, will not cause any illness or death after consumption. In Africa, more than 91 million people are estimated to fall sick and 137,000 are estimated to die from foodborne diseases annually (1).

The relevance of food safety is such that, it ensures the absence of harmful biological, chemical and physical substances in any food to protect lives and enhance economic growth. Food safety has therefore been listed by the WHO as an issue of global concern, thus, ensuring it is a public health priority (2). 

Food safety is a major concern in Ghana. It is directly linked to the 3rd United Nations Sustainable Development Goal, good health and wellbeing, which is a national priority.  

As a matter of relief, food safety has not been left out in the human health and wellbeing protection conversation in Ghana over the years. The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) Ghana is the mandated institution in the country responsible for the management of food safety across the country through its Food Safety Management Department (FSMD) and The Food Inspectorate Department set up by The Public Health Act 2012 (Act 851) of Ghana.  

The FSMD conducts certain key activities in the country such as foodborne disease surveillance, investigation of outbreak cases, food safety awareness campaigns, an inspection of food services establishments, food safety guideline development, issuance of food hygiene permits for approved facilities, and collaboration with other stakeholders to ensure food safety (3).  

The Food Inspectorate Department also contributes by overseeing the evaluation and registration of local and imported foods, aiding new businesses with food safety plans, vetting and monitoring advertisement claims and consumer complaints investigations into food product safety and quality issues (3). 

Also by way of addressing the food safety concerns of Ghana, a National Food Safety Policy developed by the FDA Ghana and supported by WHO and FAO was adopted on the 27th March 2015, following a food safety situational analysis across the country. The policy goal was to foster close collaboration and involvement among all relevant stakeholders to strengthen food safety and respond efficiently to food safety emergencies in Ghana (4). The stakeholders referred here are known institutions working on food safety issues in the country such as Ghana Standards Authority, Veterinary Services Department, The Academia and The Ministries of Health, Trade, Food and Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture Development and Tourism (5). 

One of the novel issues facing food safety globally is the incidence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Generally, antimicrobials and antibiotics are used for disease prevention and treatment in animals. Howeverthe frequent and high irresponsible usage of these drugs by farmers, such as the use of antibiotics without prescription and even for viral infections and also feeding food-producing animals with antibiotics for growth enhancement without professional oversight, are raising concerns over food safety issues (6). Studies have proven the existence of antibiotic residues in the food chain, especially in Ghana (7, 8 & 9).  

The main food safety concern with AMR is foodborne illnesses caused by a resistant bacteria. These microbes are not sensitive to treatment and can cause prolonged illness and be life-threatening.

The Veterinary Public Health and Food Safety unit under the Veterinary Services Division of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture is a crucial institution in this regard, contributing to the achievement of food safety in Ghana. The unit has a goal of preventing zoonotic diseases in humans and assure food safety through monitoring the use of antibiotics and surveillance of resistance in animals.  

Ghana’s commitment to food safety has resulted in the developing of the Antimicrobial Policy and Action Plan in 2018 to help guide the use of antimicrobial agents in the country. 

The Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) via establishing standards promotes health, welfare and safety of food consumers in the country by running the certification scheme, an inspection of food safety operations and metrology (10). The GSA currently is championing the National Aflatoxin Sensitisation and Management (NASAM) Project with the aim ‘‘to catalyse and sustain an inclusive agricultural transformation by improving food safety and security through increased knowledge about aflatoxins, its impacts and management in Ghana’’ (11). 

It is quite clear that Ghana currently has different pieces of policies and legislation on food safety that can ensure the safety and protection of human health however, certain challenges and obstacles still interfere in the journey to achieve food safety.  

Whiles poor implementation by the various institutions involved in the food safety enforcement framework in Ghana may be one of the challenges and obstacles, Dr Abebe Haile-Gabriel, the Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa for the FAO in a speech during the 2019 Maiden World Food Safety Day Celebration Symposium in Accra on the theme: “Food Safety, everyone’s business’’ said; ‘’some of the challenges and obstacles may be related to some gaps in policy and legal frameworks, food control functions, inadequate institutional arrangements, and the weak knowledge and science base’’ (12).

Despite the presence of FDA Ghana in regions across the country, food vendors by the streets and in the markets still display food items in the open air under the scorching sun without refrigeration increasing the chances of contamination of these foods. Also, there are food services establishments such as restaurants, catering facilities and street vended joints around the country especially in the cities, sited at the wrong places and are not practising food safety standards and practices. 

A 2016 review by the FAO, revealed that contamination and adulteration levels of food were very high in street food outlets in Ghana, and poor hygiene practices were often adopted increasing the risk of developing the foodborne disease (13). 

Studies have also confirmed a low level of food safety knowledge by consumers in Ghana while food vendors show satisfactory knowledge of food safety, nonetheless, their knowledge does not necessarily translate into good food safety practices (14 &15). 

The FDA Ghana is still faced with inadequate capacity to conduct food testing programmes in the country coupled with a large number of products imported into the country which need to be inspected to ascertain their safety for the Ghanaian populace. There is an inadequacy in personnel, equipment and a single main laboratory located in the Accra main office serving the entire country. 

There is also still a challenge of research findings communications between the academia and institutions enforcing food safety. Departments involved in food science and health degrees supervise students who conduct relevant food safety researches such as the prevalence of certain pathogens in common foods, but the findings from these researches end up on library shelves and are not considered in standards setting and food safety decision making in the country.  

Climate change and food adulteration and authenticity are increasingly becoming challenges to attaining food safety globally; however, Ghana’s plan to protect threats from them has not been maximised.  

Going forward, strengthening education and instilling food safety consciousness along the entire food chain (producers to consumers) is key to the realisation of food safety in Ghana. Television, radio programmes and social media should be an additional way to reach Ghanaians to sensitize them on the need for food safety.   

Also, there is a need to revise standards to meet modern food regulations by considering what and how human factors negatively affected food safety, and the critical points in the entire food value chains (12). Food hazard analysis should be conducted on common retail products with the involvement of these food producers and marketers. 

There is also the need to strengthen market surveillance across the country, encourage the public to boycott and report defaulters to recognised authorities enforcing food safety in Ghana. Defaulters of the food safety standards of the country ought to be punished because their actions are life-threatening. 

Finally, laboratory facilities are key logistics to achieving food safety (10). Regional laboratories should be set up with investments to employ trained food technologists, conduct food tests and foodborne diseases surveillance as a means of protecting consumers across the country. 

REFERENCES

  1. World Health Organization. WHO’s first ever global estimates of foodborne diseases find children under 5 account for almost one third of deaths. [Cited on 2021 Mar 3]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news/item/03-12-2015-who-s-first-ever-global-estimates-of-foodborne-diseases-find-children-under-5-account-for-almost-one-third-of-deaths
  2. World Health Organization. Food Safety [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Mar 3]. Available from: Food safety (who.int)
  3. Food and Drugs Authority Ghana. Food Division [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Mar 3]. Available from: https://fdaghana.gov.gh/food.php
  4. Food and Drugs Authority Ghana. National Food Safety Policy Adopted. 2015.
  5. WHO Africa. Ghana Adopts Food Safety Policy [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Mar 3]. Available from: https://www.afro.who.int/news/ghana-adopts-food-safety-policy
  6. Ministry of Health of Ghana. Policy on Antimicrobial Use and Resistance for Ghana. 2018. 
  7. Adzitey F, Peprah PA, Teye GA, Somboro AM, Kumalo HM, Amoako DG. Prevalence and Antimicrobial Resistance of Escherichia coli Isolated from various Meat types in the Tamale Metropolis of Ghana. International Journal of Food Science. 2020.
  8. Ekli R, Adzitey F, Agbolosu AA. Farmers’ knowledge in antibiotic usage, antibiotic residues and susceptibility of Salmonella enterica in beef samples from the Wa Municipality, Ghana. Bulletin of Animal Health and Production in Africa. 2020.
  9. Adzitey F. Antibiotic resistance of Escherichia coli isolated from beef and its related samples in Techiman Municipality of Ghana. Asian Journal of Animal Sciences. 2015.
  10. Oloo B, Lanoi D, Oniang’o R. Food Safety Legislation in some Developing Countries. Food Safety – Some Global Trends. 2018.
  11. Ghana Standards Authority. NASAM [Internet].  [Cited 2021 Mar 7] Available from: https://www.gsa.gov.gh/nasam/
  12. Anonymous. Food safety must be prioritized – Minister [Internet]. [Cited 2021 Mar 7] Available from: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2019/06/08/food-safety-must-be-prioritized-minister/amp/
  13. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Street Food in Urban Ghana: A desktop review and analysis of findings and recommendations from existing literature. 2016. Available from: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2019/06/08/food-safety-must-be-prioritized-minister/amp/
  14. Annor GA, Baiden EA. Evaluation of Food Hygiene Knowledge Attitudes and Practices of Food Handlers in Food Businesses in Accra, Ghana. Food and Nutrition Sciences 2.  830 – 836. 2011
  15. Akabanda F, Hlortsi EH, Owusu-Kwarteng, J.  Food safety knowledge, attitudes and practices of institutional food-handlers in Ghana. BMC Public Health 17(1):40. 2017.

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