The theme of the 2021 World Food Safety Day (WFSD), ‘Safe Food Now for a Healthy Tomorrow’, couldn’t have been more apt in drawing attention to the current global and national food security and safety issues.
Reports about the looming food shortage in certain countries/ regions; and the increasing pivot to cheap, and in some cases, unsafe alternatives among segments of the global population has helped to galvanize governments and corporate bodies to effectively participate in food security and safety campaigns within their countries and operational regions respectively. This year’s commemoration of the World Food Safety Day provides a platform to focus on the consumption of unsafe foods, and the consequent impact of such practices on the socio-economic wellbeing of the global population and how the various private and public agencies are working together to proffer lasting solutions to these issues.
A World Health Organisation factsheet showed that an estimated 600 million people fall victim to unsafe, contaminated food every year. While a large percentage of the estimated number of people who consume unsafe food suffer a range of illnesses such as diarrhea and cancer, about 420,000 of the victims die yearly.
The consumption of contaminated foods and the resulting cases of illnesses and deaths impact the global labour force and productivity levels negatively. The efficiency rate of the labour force is lowered, while medical bills gulp a chunk of corporate and public revenues. In monetary terms, the world loses a whooping $110 billion annually to lost productivity due to consumption of contaminated foods.
More painful, however, is the fact that children account for 40% of the total victims of food-borne diseases. Considering the recent advancements in the global food supply chains and nutrition regulatory and monitoring frameworks, the proliferation of unsafe foods and the consequent loss of lives is tragic, seeing as it is completely avoidable.
Food can be chemically, biologically and physically contaminated. For instance, the toxins that occur naturally in some fishes may harm consumers. Likewise, the use of hazardous chemicals such as dichlorvos for the storage of agricultural produce and the adoption of crude farming practices that involve the use of substandard fertilizers on local farms may leave food contaminated and unsafe for public consumption.
Unauthorized preservatives to prolong the shelf life of food products can be hazardous to human health. Pest droppings and other contaminants often contain bacteria and viruses that are harmful when carelessly allowed to get into food prepared for human consumption. Besides, where foreign objects such as wood, iron, fingernails, amongst others, are found in food meant for human consumption, the food is said to be physically contaminated. In addition, non-fortified natural food ingredients such as unbranded salts and cooking oil that lack vital nutritional minerals do more harm to the human body than good.
Food insecurity can somewhat be linked to the consumption of unsafe foods. Price inflation and natural disasters stimulate a wider pivot to cheap and unsafe food types. Drought creates deep poverty and hunger. Food price inflation encourages the sale of fake & substandard food products, and the marketing of unfortified & badly processed food products.
Global food prices rose sharply in the first quarter of 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with regional unrests in the country, the various policies deployed to curtail the pandemic have resulted in economic meltdown across local and global markets.
The World Bank, in a report titled, ‘Food Security and COVID-19’, published on May 21, 2021, shared that “Global food prices have risen by 38% since January 2020. Maize prices are 80% higher and wheat prices are 28% higher than in January 2020. Surging prices reflect strong demand, along with weather uncertainties, macroeconomic conditions, and COVID-19-related supply disruptions, even though the global production outlook for major grains remains good.”
“The primary risks to food security are at the country level: Higher retail prices, combined with reduced incomes, mean more and more households are having to cut down on the quantity and quality of their food consumption.”
The rising cases of illnesses and deaths as a consequence of food-borne diseases demand wider actions. This is where public-private collaborations are imperative. Many global agencies, including the World Bank, and several private food processing firms are helping to address the food security and safety challenges by providing support resources at the production and supply levels to ensure the global population is well-nourished.
As producers of one of the leading food staples in the country, the flour milling industry has a responsibility to ensure food safety and security. According to Ashish Pande, Managing Director of Crown Flour Mill (CFM) Limited, a subsidiary of Olam Group, “presently, the wheat value chain accounts for 75 million of the daily food portions in Nigerian households. As such, food safety is of very critical importance both ethically and financially to the food production space. Quality is extremely imperative as it helps to reduces risks and cost thereby increasing sales and improving reputation.”
For a leading miller like CFM, for instance, food safety starts from raw material procurement through to the manufacturing processes, storage and distribution and right up to when it gets to the consumer. According to Jean Hazoume, VP, Quality of CFM “We ensure that all legal and regulatory requirements are met at all levels, with rigorous procedures followed in line with the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards to optimize best practices. Our factories are certified compliant with international standards, and preventive & corrective actions are taken as at when due.” We pay maximum attention where food safety and quality are concerned.”
In the food processing business, traceability is a vital part of operational efficiency. This entails identifying the source of all food inputs such as raw materials, additives, other ingredients, and packaging. CFM’s operations underscore the importance of traceability for the production of safe food products.
Food quality measures by CFM includes the deployment of cutting-edge vitamin premix to boost the supply of nutritious, and safe food products that meet the regulatory requirement of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) for the local market. Today’s consumers and particularly this present generation are more health conscious than their older counterparts. This presents a huge opportunity for food manufacturers to exploit this consciousness by manufacturing food products to meet consumer preferences.
In this regard Ashish Pande said: “We have a few things in the pipeline in terms of new product development that would further excite our customers. However, at present, our food labels convey information about our product’s nutritional identity and contents, and on how to handle them safely. They contain vital details such as preparation & consumption directions, date of manufacture and expiry of the product as well as storage instructions. Our nutrition labels describe the nutrient content of our products and are intended to guide the consumer in food selection. Our nutrient content is carefully selected and based on compliance with regulatory dietary recommendations.
The Managing Director concluded by saying: “Keeping the contents of our food products safe for their required shelf life is fundamental to avoiding food contamination.”
Commemorative days are typically known to inspire wider actions in addressing deep issues across thematic borders and sectors. As the world celebrates food safety day, CFM continues to contribute to the country’s food safety and security drive, its efforts add up to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals of zero hunger by 2030.