“HACCP programs are implemented occasionally in the larger manufacturing companies in Ghana, especially if there are problems with their products, but the small-scale producers don’t implement HACCP,” Dr. Saba says. “Companies are monitored by the food regulatory bodies in the country but the enforcement is actually very weak, coupled with inadequate expertise. Food safety auditing is virtually non-existent here.”
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Explore This IssueFebruary/March 2015
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Emphasizing that he speaks only for his own country, Dr. Saba says that Ghana’s situation in food safety is likely the norm in many other African countries. For example, implementation and enforcement of food regulations is a big challenge in many African countries, Ghana included, he says.
“The major food safety issues in Africa are foodborne illnesses and inadequate food hygiene practices,” he emphasizes. “Compounding this, some people don’t believe illnesses are caused by unwholesome food.”
There are an estimated 2,000 food safety-related deaths in Africa each day, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. An estimated 700,000 deaths occur in Africa each year due to diarrhea associated with contaminated food and water, according to Dr. Anelich. Reported foodborne disease outbreaks in Africa show that the majority is caused by Salmonella spp., Shigella flexneri, Shigella sonnei, and Shigella dysenteriae; plus Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, and Clostridium perfringens. Various types of parasites are also a significant cause of foodborne illnesses in Africa.
“The presence of illegal levels of food additives such as E110, E102, E104, and E124 in local and imported products, especially in children’s foods and drinks, without any indication about their possible adverse effects written on labels, is a problem in Africa, and there is virtually no equipment here to test food for recommended levels of additives,” Dr. Saba says.
“Inadequate testing laboratories is another quagmire to food regulation in Africa that makes it difficult for regulators to take swift action when problems occur,” he continues. “Many labs have inadequate testing equipment and expertise. As a result it can take months or years for some analyses to be done, and some samples have to be sent out of the countries for analysis. Our local food and drugs authority (FDA) doesn’t have adequate capacity and has to send their samples to Accra, Ghana’s capital city, which is about 373 miles away, and Accra only has one lab serving the country’s FDA.”
Currently managing the UDS faculty laboratory complex, Dr. Saba helps the FDA in his geographic region to test certain locally produced products that are striving to meet the Ghana FDA standards for the certification of products. This testing includes proximate analysis and microbial analyses of locally produced beverages like sobolo, which is made from dried sorrel flowers flavored with sugar and ginger, and also milled cereal/legume products, including Tom Brown (roasted-maize porridge), a traditional weaning food and dawadawa (aka sumbala), a condiment made from néré (Parkia biglobosa) seeds or soybeans that is traditionally sold in balls or patties.
Other weaknesses in food safety and quality initiatives in Africa include low literacy rates, governments not prioritizing food safety, and inadequate funding for continental food safety organizations, Dr. Saba mentions.
Dr. Saba says the African populace is becoming more aware of food safety issues than ever before. “This makes it easier for most consumers here to take on manufacturing companies for their actions or inactions,” he purports.
Aside from the many challenges that face Africa, there are also a number of opportunities, Dr. Anelich emphasizes. “Africa is clearly on a growth trajectory, with an average growth rate of five percent per annum, which it has maintained over the past few years, with some countries showing a higher growth than five percent,” she says. “There are definitely opportunities being grasped to exploit the agricultural and food producing potential of Africa. Thus, there is no better time than the present to ensure that food standards are developed and/or revised in keeping with WTO, SPS, and TBT Agreement principles. This approach will facilitate harmonization of food standards, and consequently food safety standards, at regional and international levels.”