Foodborne Illness: Nigeria must be prepared for the unexpected in food safety emergency – NAFDAC

By Seun Ibiyemi

The National Agency for Food and Administration and Control NAFDAC has called on all stakeholders in the food supply chain to take deliberate actions to institute a food safety culture in their operations to mitigate the food hazards and risks that could compromise food safety.

The Director General, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, gave the admonition at the 2024 World Foo d Safety Day with the theme Food Safety: Prepare for the Unexpected’ where she calle don all stakeholders to take deliberate actions to institute a food safety culture in their operations to mitigate the food hazards and risks that could compromise food safety.

She however, urged Nigerians to refrain from storing cooked food in the refrigerator for more than three days, warning that cooked food stored in the refrigerator for days is susceptible to contamination by disease-causing pathogens, key agents of foodborne diseases that can lead to death.

World Food Safety Day was established in 2018 by the United Nations General Assembly after it was suggested by the Codex Alimentarius Commission as a way of raising food safety awareness and promoting collaboration across sectors.

According to WHO estimates, globally one in ten people become sick and 420,000 die eac h year after consuming contaminated food which attributed to the loss 33 million years of healthy life with children under five years and other vulnerable groups disproportionately affected in the poorer areas of the world. In developing countries about $110b is lost ever y year on medical expenses due to unsafe food.

Prof. Adeyeye remarked that food safety is not only important for public health but a sine qua non for economic development and food security.

She emphasized that everybody has a role to play from the farm to the table to ensure that the food we consume is safe and will not cause damage to our health. She added that for World Food Safety Day 2024, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are asking all stakeholders along the food supply chain if they are prepared to address unexpected threats to food safety in an increasingly interconnected and interlinked global food supply.

Prof Adeyeye noted that food safety is a collective responsibility, adding that everyone f rom producers to consumers need to play their part to be sure that the food we eat is saf e, adding that the campaign aims to promote global food safety awareness to strengthen efforts of preventing, detecting and managing foodborne risks globally by highlighting the importance of being prepared for food safety incidents.

Food safety incidents are situations where there is a potential or confirmed health risk as sociated with food consumption. A food incident can happen for example, due to accident s, inadequate controls, food fraud or natural events. While being ready to manage food safety incidents requires dedicated efforts from policy makers food safety authorities, farmers, and food business operators, consumers can also play a very active role.

For example, according to the NAFDAC boss, the WHO World Food Safety Day 2024 communication toolkit suggests that governments commit to developing or updating national food safety emergency response plans, strengthen national food control systems, increase surveillance and coordination capacities and improve communication with food businesses and the public.

Consequently, she mentioned that the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare has developed programmes for the elimination, eradication, prevention and control of disease s, which include the National Integrated Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Surveillance an d Response which is useful for preparedness and rapid response to emerging and re-emerging foodborne diseases. She however, noted that this year’s theme calls for all stakeholders from regulatory officers, experts, producers, to processors, distributors, retailers, restaurant outlets and consumers to consider if they are indeed prepared for the unexpected. “Let us all stay true to the statements ‘food safety is everyone’s business’ and ‘food saf ety is a shared responsibility’’ as we celebrate this year’s World Food Safety Day. Working together we will continue to strengthen our food safety system, ensuring its resilience, robustness and preparedness for the unexpected.”

Speaking on ‘Developing a Food Safety Emergency Response Plan: Implementation of the National Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Surveillance and Response’, the Director of F ood Safety and Applied Nutrition (FSAN), Mrs. Eva Edwards, alerted that foodborne diseases are expensive, yet they are preventable. In recent years, she recalled that the global community as well as our national government recognized the public health effect of foodborne diseases as capable of causing considerable burden of diseases and mortality.

She emphasized the significance food as a necessity for human life, stressing that it can also be a source of harm if not handled properly.

Mrs. Edwards stated that food safety emergency response must be anchored on a multisectoral, collaborative, integrated one-health approach across the Health, Agriculture, Environment sectors, the tiers of government including relevant external partners and non-governmental organizations.

The objective is to have a coordinated approach to investigating foodborne disease outbreaks and contributing knowledge and skills from the different sec tors to achieve a robust and comprehensive investigation.

She said that the mix of skills will bring to the fore the robustness of the investigation, ad ding that the emergency response team may include epidemiologists, laboratory scientist s, environmental health officers, and food safety control officers, amongst others.

“Let’s all play our part in promoting the culture of good hygiene practices in our homes, communities and food establishments. Together we can ensure a safer and healthier food supply for everyone.”

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