African experts have highlighted the main food safety concerns, challenges, and potential solutions for the continent at the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) virtual annual meeting.

The roundtable discussion included specialists from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Gambia. The majority highlighted mycotoxins as one of the top issues.

Lucia Anelich, director of Anelich Consulting, presented the situation in South Africa.

“Our main food safety issues from a bacterial point of view are Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, particularly E. coli O157, and Campylobacter. We are not spending a lot of time and effort on Campylobacter although it is believed to be problematic in the country, particularly in the poultry sector. From a mycotoxins perspective, our main problems are aflatoxins, fumonisin, and to a certain extent deoxynivalenol.”

Move to update rules in South Africa
Anelich said not all the system is risk-based but there is a push to revise regulations and standards.

“Food safety management system implementation is mainly voluntary and it has become a customer requirement. So if a company wants to do business with another they will require a specific FSMS is in place and certified by an accredited certification body,” she said.

Roundtable speakers

“There is one exception, we do have a HACCP regulation but it is only mandatory for two categories, meaning they must have a HACCP system in place that is certified by an accredited certification body and the accreditation should be done by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS).

“These categories are peanut sorting and peanut butter manufacturing because of the concern of aflatoxins with peanuts that are grown here or imported and the second category became enforceable in March 2019 on all processed ready to eat meats including polony and sausages and the reason for this was the listeriosis outbreak in 2017 and 2018.”

Anelich Consulting and Food Focus are hosting a Virtual Food Safety Summit 2020, South Africa, on Nov. 3, 2020. Speakers include Bill Marler from Marler Clark, Frank Yiannas of the U.S. FDA, and Wayne Anderson at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Speakers agreed to the African Union, which consists of the 55 member states in Africa, was becoming more involved in food safety with plans ongoing to set up an African Food Safety Agency. It is also working with the African Continental Association of Food Protection at a food safety conference next year. This move has FAO and African Development Bank support.

Informal markets in Ethiopia
Kebede Amenu, from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, said there is a high prevalence of foodborne illness in the country even though there is no concrete epidemiological investigation.

“One of the factors could be community preference for raw animal source foods. Raw beef consumption is a very common thing. Raw milk is more in rural areas and about 80 percent of the country is rural. We find outdated laws and also irregularities in the implementation. There are some laws but they are not consistent and scattered in different governmental organizations and such lack of coordination is difficult for the country,” he said.

“There is a predominance of informal food markets. So there is a dilemma in terms of the policy, some people say informal is good because it is securing food for the poor, others say it should be regulated. On food fraud and adulteration, there has been economic growth in Ethiopia for the last 10 years and because of this, there is a movement of people and urbanization. With this, it means people should get food and because of this there is an opportunity to market food without much strict regulation and people tend to adulterate food.”

Amenu said there were some promising initiatives in terms of generating evidence for actions.

“Evidence-based decisions and actions are the most cost-effective and visible. Epidemiological evidence and risk-based initiatives are there for the last five years. The other difficulty is with the evidence there, the problems are identified, solutions are there but there should be an investment in infrastructure. Change is also related to the behavioral setup of the community including policymakers and implementers; that is how change can really happen in terms of the way people are preparing, consuming, and so on.”

A previous large outbreak in Kenya
Dr. Moses Gathura Gichia, the former coordinator of the FAO/WHO regional coordinating committee for Africa, gave the view from Kenya.

“According to the WHO 2015 report on foodborne diseases, by the time we are through with our panel discussion 16 people would have passed on due to various foodborne diseases. Out of which, we would have lost four people due to non-typhoidal Salmonella,” he said.

“Food handling is still a major concern in Kenya. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place like handwashing and sanitizing we expect a study to be done which may show whether the incidence or prevalence of foodborne diseases has gone down.”

Gathura said the other area of food safety concern is mycotoxins and particularly aflatoxin.

“The staple diet in Kenya is maize. When maize is contaminated with aflatoxin it means so many people are at risk. In 2004, there was an outbreak of aflatoxin in Kenya which affected 317 people and 125 died. Samples collected showed the level of contamination with aflatoxin was 800 hundred times higher than the accepted standard of 10 parts per billion. Climate change is an area of collaboration with the international community. The aflatoxin outbreak was preceded by changing weather patterns,” he said.

“Kenya has 23 pieces of legislation on food safety with various governing institutions. That makes it very difficult to coordinate what the right hand is doing and what the left hand is not doing. There has been a move since 2004, to merge all those bodies to have a single food safety control system. It has not worked until now, unfortunately.”

Aflatoxin issue for processors in Nigeria
Adewale Obadina, from the Federal University of Agriculture in Nigeria, said microbiological contaminants were a major challenge in ready to eat fruit and vegetables.

“There is poor hygiene at all stages of the food chain – different food processors don’t keep good hygienic practices which is one of the major hazards, improper storage and handling also affect the finished product and raw materials. All this contributes to the food safety challenge in the country,” he said.

Obadina said aflatoxin was also a problem.

“It is becoming more and more difficult for people to be able to identify aflatoxins along the value chain and this is because processors are mainly illiterate, so for them to take the sample to the lab for analysis is very difficult. So when you try to encourage them to follow good agricultural practices and good hygienic practices to reduce the risk of aflatoxins it is always a challenge for them.

“There is a need to develop an on-site rapid test kit for aflatoxins so these farmers and processors can do the test, that is not quantitative, a qualitative test on the field and be sure that the cereal, legume or crop they want to process or sell is dangerous or not and know how to handle that.”

Wet and informal markets also need to be improved or modernized, said Obadina.

“The majority of the food that people consume is obtained at informal markets and the way it has been set up, it contains a higher risk of food hazards. There is a need for international communities to come and collaborate to see how the wet or informal markets can be improved to the level of farmers’ markets in developed countries.”

Mycotoxins damage export hopes for Gambia
Abdoulie Jallow, of the Food Safety and Quality Authority of the Gambia, said the agency was created in 2011 on the back of issues such as losing exports to Europe because of aflatoxins in peanuts.

“Like other parts of Africa we have a lot of food safety issues including microbial contaminants. Fortunately for us, vegetables are not consumed much raw, they are processed and cooked so it is not a big problem,” he said.

“However, it is a problem in milk, as it is consumed raw in all the country, if you want pasteurization you have to buy imported milk. In the rainy season, we see an increase in foodborne disease because the amount of milk produced increases so the consumption also increases and this also increases microbial related diseases.”

Jallow said informal and small scale food processing is a problem because it is almost impossible to regulate.

“Most food safety issues come from here as it is the main food source for the population, especially in rural areas. Another issue is food storage and handling which is related to mycotoxins because after most of our peanuts are produced and brought to the ports for export if it is not well handled and stored then mycotoxin levels increase, and before they get to the EU market the aflatoxin levels are so high they cannot be shelled and they have to be brought back.”

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