No letting the guard down on food safety

Photo credit: Shutterstock | Nation Media Group

Messages from Kenya’s Cabinet Secretaries for Health and Agriculture, Hon Mutahi Kagwe and Hon Peter Munya, respectively

This year, the World Food Safety Day theme is “Safer Food, Better Health”.

Food safety is central to public health and poverty reduction, and is in line with Sustainable Development Goals no 2 and 3: Zero Hunger, and Good Health and Wellbeing.

Food safety largely concerns responsible production and consumption. Article 43 (1) (c) and (d) of the Constitution of Kenya gives every citizen the right to adequate food of acceptable quality and safe water in adequate quantities.

Unsafe food contains microbiological, chemical, or physical hazards that are detrimental to human health. About 200 diseases are spread as a result of unsafe handling and consumption of food. It is also worth noting that unsafe food reduces the bioavailability of nutrients, particularly for infants, pregnant mothers, immune-suppressed individuals, and the elderly.

Foodborne diseases have major impacts on human health, health care systems, livelihoods, and trade. Globally, one in 10 people fall ill annually due to consumption of contaminated food, with 420,000 deaths reported, 125,000 of them being children under the age of five.

In Kenya, over 70 percent of all episodes of diarrhoea are attributed to ingestion of contaminated food and water. It is therefore important for the National Government, county governments, food business operators, development partners and all other stakeholders to prioritise safe food practices for reversing the trend and ensuring better health.

The Ministry of Health has put in place several measures to this effect, including:

  • Drafting the Kenya Food and Feed Safety Control Coordination Bill 2022.
  • Reviewing the National Food Policy 2013.
  • Working closely with Food Business Operators (FBO’s) to ensure they supply safe food to Kenyans.
  • Promotion of safe food handling through systematic disease prevention and awareness programmes.
  • Integrating food safety into national policies and programmes in line with the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005).
  • Regularly monitoring the burden of foodborne and zoonotic diseases.

Meanwhile, food trade in Kenya, specifically earnings from horticulture exports, hit a historic high last year at Ksh158 billion to remain the leading foreign exchange earner in the last two years, staying ahead of tea and tourism. This was achieved through strict adherence to high food safety standards in production and processing, which inspired confidence in Kenyan produce globally.

Food is fundamental to life. If it is not safe, it is not food. This puts an obligation on all countries to put in place systems to appropriately protect human, animal and plant health, while facilitating trade.

Ensuring access to safe food takes sustained investment in stronger regulations, laboratories, surveillance and monitoring. It also takes ownership. To this effect, food producers and manufacturers must adopt good practices to ensure a sufficient supply of safe food at all levels. Business operators must comply with food safety and quality management programmes that identify, evaluate and control hazards, from primary production to final consumption. They must also adopt good processing, storage and preservation practices that retain the nutritional value of food as well as reduce postharvest losses.

The empowerment of consumers to make healthy food choices for themselves and practise hygienic food handling is also critical.

The Government of Kenya is reviewing the National Food Safety Policy of 2013. The review will involve developing a regulatory and coordination framework for all agencies involved in food safety.

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How the MESPT AgriFi Programme promotes food safety

The AgriFI Food Safety Programme in Kenya, which is implemented by the Micro-Enterprise Support Programme Trust (MESPT), is a European Union-funded initiative whose focus is food safety (sanitary and phytosanitary standards), as well as plant and animal health. The programme’s interventions aim at strengthening food safety.

In pursuit of continuous improvement in food safety through the project, MESPT is strengthening the capacities of actors along with the dairy, horticulture, and aquaculture value-chains through the Agricultural Technical and Vocational Education and Training (ATVET) system approach. The programme also aims to increase the capacity of private sector players and county governments to implement and enforce standards on food safety, plant health, and animal health, and enhance multi-stakeholder coordination.

There are tremendous outcomes realised in 13 counties (Nyandarua, Nakuru, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru, Makueni, Machakos, Kilifi, Migori, Kisii, Kakamega, and Bungoma), with coordination mechanisms to enforce standards on food safety. These include the formation of County Food Safety Coordination Committees to facilitate public-private collaboration and partnerships in solving food safety challenges.

The objectives and targeted outcomes of the AgriFI Programme resonate well with the 2022 World Food Safety Day theme.

Strengthening collaboration improves food safety

AgriFi’s approach to improving food safety – Food Safety Systems for Value-Chain Competitiveness – aims to strengthen national food safety systems while improving county, national and international collaboration. Result Area 3 of the programme aims to increase the capacity of the private sector players and county governments to implement and enforce standards on food safety, plant health, and animal health by helping the selected counties to formulate legislation governing food safety.

AgriFI has implemented a Multi-Annual National Control Plan (MANCP) through the various Central Competent Authorities (CCAs) as a great milestone for Result Area 3. The plan provides an approach to improve food safety in the country through a self-regulation approach by food business operators.

On the other hand, the creation of the County Food Safety Coordination Committee (CFSCC) has strengthened agencies and assisted the county governments to set up the relevant systems and structures that would contribute to addressing the systemic challenges in food safety and plant health nationally and at the county level.

AgriFI has established county-based food safety testing and surveillance systems in all the 13 counties, an intervention that will ensure enforcement of food safety.

Investing in food safety today will reap future rewards

In strengthening and supporting food safety policies in reducing foodborne diseases through the enactment and proper enforcement of food legislation in collaboration with county governments, the AgriFI programme is currently rolling out a strategic wet markets initiative aimed at achieving food safety within food business operators (FBO).

The FBOs in the wet markets are required to put in place, implement and comply with given hygiene and food safety requirements, covering all levels of the farm-to-table continuum.

FBOs must have the required licenses and certifications as per the CCAs regulations, including premises and handlers’ licenses and certifications. 

It is open knowledge that foodborne diseases affect human health and cause significant economic losses. The wet markets project significantly strengthens sustainable waste management and enhances sanitation and hygiene to reduce foodborne diseases. It helps in the mitigation of future effects of unsafe food.

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