LETTERS: Why food safety must be everyone’s business

A fruit vendor
A fruit vendor at Ngong Market, Kajiado County. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG 

The World Food Safety Day was marked for the first time on June 7.

Safe food is an often-overlooked piece of the developmental puzzle, overshadowed by health, education, access to water and electricity, and other pressing needs. It shouldn’t be.

Food safety affects everyone, every day, and has huge implications on almost all development issues, including health, productivity, tourism, and, of course, food security.

As the United Nations said in a statement proclaiming Food Safety Day: “There is no food security without food safety.”

How far-reaching are the effects of unsafe food? The World Health Organisation estimates that a staggering 600 million people around the world suffer serious cases of foodborne illness every year.


It’s more than likely that you, or someone you know, have been among them.

Unsafe food can be just as devastating for businesses and economies, with incidents and outbreaks costing African economies the equivalent of close to Sh170 billion in global losses annually due to sickness, recalls, lost productivity, and other issues.

Meanwhile, a 2018 World Bank report, The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, found that food safety usually receives minimal policy attention and investment in developing countries and only tends to capture national attention during foodborne disease outbreaks and other crises.

The report states: “As a result, many countries have weak food safety systems in terms of infrastructure, trained human resources, food safety culture and enforceable regulations.”

The good news is, most causes of unsafe food – whether due to storage, handling, transporting, or preparation – can be identified and addressed long before they do physical or financial harm. With the right systems and procedures in place, there is no reason that so many hundreds of millions need to suffer every year.

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, has built 15 years’ experience supporting safe food solutions in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa, helping hotels, farms, restaurants, bottlers, and food producers and packagers implement or improve food safety systems.

In Kenya, for example, IFC has partnered with Twiga Foods, which sources produce from Kenyan farmers and delivers it to vendors in urban areas, to boost its food safety practices to global standards and ensure traceability of the produce, from the farm to consumer for the health of its customers.

IFC will train Twiga staff on internationally-accepted food safety practices in its produce handling facilities and work with the company to help 30 pilot farms across 20 Kenyan counties achieve global G.A.P certification, the gold standard for safe and sustainable agriculture.

The initiative is applying global-quality certification to food products destined for a domestic (rather than export) market, meaning Kenyans across the country will have access to globally-certified fruits and vegetables at their local kiosks.

Food safety interventions with Twiga alone have the potential to benefit millions of people, protecting them from Salmonella, E. coli, and other illnesses that might otherwise keep them from productive days at work or school.

Yet, according to a 2019 report from the World Bank Group’s Global Food Safety Partnership's (GFSP), fewer than half of 500 donor-funded food safety initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa are focused on domestic consumers.

The report also found that less than five percent of donor investments addressed specific health risks, such as Salmonella and E.coli that local consumers face when purchasing from informal food markets.

While governments and the private sector in the region have made progress eliminating food safety issues, clearly more needs to be done to protect consumers.

This is why Food Safety Day is so important. Kenya’s hard-working farmers, grateful for the recent rains, have been supplying shops and markets with fresh produce to fill hungry bellies. The entire farm to table process would be in jeopardy, however, without rigorous food safety procedures in place every step of the way.

Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu via email.