With this in mind, Dr. Caipo says, FAO’s Food Quality and Standards Service looks at several key tasks, including strengthening national food control regulatory frameworks, and enhancing member country participation in Codex; providing independent scientific advice through the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment expert bodies to support the standard setting work of Codex; enhancing food safety management along food chains to prevent diseases and trade disruptions; promoting food safety emergency preparedness to build resilient agri-food chains; and developing online platforms for global networking, databases for information sharing, and tools to support food safety management.
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On the downside of South American (and LAC) food safety, there is a need to increase political will to strengthen intraregional trade and local food chains, including short circuits and/or indigenous foods, Dr. Caipo says. “Lack of financial resources for food safety research in science-based decision making in South America and the LAC region is a problem,” she mentions. “There is also a need to strengthen prevention and response to food safety emergencies. This is compounded by inadequate support and training in food safety at different levels of the food chain, for example, for consumers and street vendors.”
“Street food preparation and sale remain a problem in several countries of the region,” says Fernando Quevedo-Ganoza, PhD, CFS (Certified Food Scientist), founding director of the Latin American Center of Food Bacteriology Teaching and Investigation (Centro Latinoamericano de Enseñanza e Investigación de Bacteriología Alimentaria) and principal professor of food safety at the National University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru.
“Many markets and food service sites lack the conditions required to ensure the safety of food sold or served,” Dr. Quevedo-Ganoza relates. “However, health authorities, as well as public institutions, show great interest in food control and in reducing the number and frequency of foodborne illnesses.”
“Food safety at home and in food service operations, where most of the documented outbreaks are reported, are a major issue in South America,” Romero Torres concurs.
“Infant diarrhea, with most cases caused by contaminated food or water, is a major concern for public health authorities,” Dr. Quevedo-Ganoza says, adding that in South America foodborne diseases are among the most prevalent illnesses, not only in children, but also in adults. “Such cases are often attributed to traditional indigenous foods and beverages prepared at home by low income individuals, often under less than optimum hygiene conditions.”
Most national food control systems in South American countries involve several ministries, and, thus, coordination among different agencies can be challenging, according to food microbiologist Bernadette Franco, PhD, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition and provost of graduate studies at the University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, as well as director of the Food Research Center, also located in São Paulo.
“Most countries in South America, in fact all of Latin America, are making efforts to align regulatory frameworks with the requirements of the WTO/SPS/Technical Barriers to Trade agreements,” Dr. Franco says. “Moreover, these countries are actively seeking trade facilitation mechanisms, such as use of equivalence agreements for sanitary registration. It is important to note that there is a continuous need in Latin America to build capacity related to food safety and risk analysis and a continuous need to strengthen laboratory networks.”
Despite existing inadequacies, according to Dr. Quevedo-Ganoza, South American countries have made great efforts to improve and increase their control and regulations relative to food.
Complimenting these regulatory efforts, some universities, including the National University of San Marcos, offer courses in hygiene, food microbiology, and food safety, and they train professionals specializing in these issues.