How safe is your food?
Food, a basic human right and an essential part of human living and in a very big way forms the basis of existence itself. Behind it all there is an immense trust that is put on it be it in a restaurant, supermarket, farm, manufacturing companies and all its major sources. It all starts from the farm before it is on your plate going through different hands and processes having to encounter risks that include human, pathogenic, hygienical and even environmental. Historically, documented human tragedies and economic disasters due to consuming contaminated food occurred as a result of intentional or unintentional personal conduct and governmental failure to safeguard food quality and safety. (Fung, et al 2018) - and that describes just how fundamental food safety is of elemental importance.
Whose Responsibility is it?
Beyond the safety of the food itself, there are several factors that are of high risks. Food contamination, adulteration, poisoning, and spoilage cause infections and even diseases that could be dangerous. Even food additives could be of risk to human health causing disorders and disorders that could affect our body systems and allergies. Sometimes misinformation and dishonesty among those who make and process our foods could also cause risks to our lives. Food is that essential to our body functionality and that makes it of that major concern and hence the fundamental question always of “how safe is my food?”
In most of our societies and countries it is a common to once in a while or repeatedly be hit by news that your favorite peanut butter or that cereal you just bought for your family for the whole year has aflatoxin or some chemical substance that could cause cancer or kidney failure on repeated use. In Kenya, for instance, where a cornmeal mush made from maize flour called Ugali is the staple food and recently there were reports of existence of Aflatoxins in at least 6 brands of the maize flour. The first thing that hits you in that instance is just the numerous Kenyan families that have been consuming these foods containing cancer causing substances while deep inside trusting that the companies and food safety agencies are doing their work. Such situations have also begged the question of where the government agencies always are while the lives of the citizens are put is such huge risks.
Consumers like you and I rely entirely on the food safety agencies set by the governments to ensure safety of what they consume. The other major part is the trust they have put on the industries, farmers and food companies. But is that really always the case? If I only eat organic foods, I would trust that if I entered Whole Foods or Walmart organic section then the tomato am buying does not have a single trace of pesticide. You are also trusting that the relevant government agencies have monitored and assured so. As consumers therefore, it is our responsibility to demand quality and safety of the products we consume. It is also our responsibility to maintain the products safe in our homes.
Ensuring Food Safety
Food safety and quality is matter that extends beyond just the government agencies inspecting the foods and the companies doing constant laboratory testing. It is a matter of conscience every moment you are putting the food in your mouth. It is a matter of evaluating the level of trust we are putting in our food handlers, restaurants and supermarkets. It is a matter of constant inspection of the food we have in our fridges and plates. Food safety to the highest degree is a matter of individual responsibility. How then do we ensure our food is safe?
The following are a few steps to ensure you are constantly eating safe food.
- Personal and environmental hygiene. Personal cleanliness and handwashing are some of the most basic food handling requirements at home. This is because untidy surfaces could easily contain pathogens like bacteria that easily spread through biological and physical contamination.
- Responsibility on food processors. We should demand our food processors to maintain conditions that reduce food substances and constantly ensure government agencies monitor what is on our shelves to be safe, correctly labelled and not risky for our consumption. These would include waste management systems, correct handling and constant laboratory testing on food quality and safety by both the parties.
- Checking the right details. This is fundamental when doing groceries or selecting what to buy. This include aspects like expiry date, nutritional contents, food manufacturers among others. These factors help you determine the level of trust or potential risk such foods could pose to your health before buying them.
- The correct conditions. Having time and temperature controls in place to prevent microbial growth in the susceptible intermediate and finished processed foods.
- Strengthening food control systems. This should be spearheaded by the governments and other food NGOs to ensure that the lives of the consumers are not put at any risks.
- Reporting any suspicious food related activities to the right authorities to take the necessary actions against the people and companies involved. This is a personal conscious responsibility that should be taken into action constantly by consumers to protect themselves.
Food safety and healthy living are inseparable. Unsafe food poses great dangers to health and while food supply could just be as important as it’s safety, it is important to access to unsafe food could also be as dangerous. Food safety in a big way is at the center of economic and sustainable development as trade, tourism, transportation and other sectors of the economy are affected by individuals. This is only possible if a nation is healthy and energetic. Because food supply chains cross multiple national and regional borders, collaboration between governments, producers, suppliers, distributors and consumers should ultimately ensure food safety in the 21st century to promote development (Fung, et al, 2018)
Fung F, Wang H & Menon S 2018, Food safety in the 21st century, Biomedical Journal Vol 41, Issue 2, April 2018, Pages 88-95. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2319417017304055
FAO. Ensuring food quality and safety and FAO technical assistance. Document prepared by Anthony J. Whitehead, Food Quality Liaison Group, FAO Food and Nutrition Division. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/W9474T/w9474t03.htm
International Agency for Research on Cancer. Aflatoxins, IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 100F. Lyon, France: World Health Organization, 2012.
- Autor: David Maduri