Ethiopia: Ensuring Food Safety From Farm to Table

The growing trend of foodborne diseases are good indicators of emerging food safety problems which require unified approach by all countries to protect human health and promote international trade. The issues may vary from country to country but interventions should start at local level.

Problems surrounding food safety pose serious impact on wide ranging issues like food security, public health, trade and economy, says Dr. Abebe Ayelign, Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at Addis Ababa University.

According to Dr. Abebe, there could be no food security if the already produced food cannot be safe from disease causing agents. On top of that if people are not protected from consuming unsafe food it is a grave concern for public health. Consequently too, failure to ensure food safety can cause failure of trade as no one can supply for sale unsafe food. The same is true for the economic impact of lack of food safety as many people would turn to seeking medical treatment rather than education and working if they are vulnerable to unsafe food.

He further added that available data in the developed world indicates that among 10 people is vulnerable to diseases caused by lack of food safety. But in developing countries like Ethiopia the issue is of a grave concern though there is no clear data to show the exact figure.

Hence, he stressed that in addition to the studies by higher education instiutions all stakeholders need to work hand in hand to address issues of food safety. Food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms dominate government agendas and the news media in most of the developing countries including Ethiopia. Studies demonstrate that food safety is a serious public health issue in Ethiopia as in other developing countries which has been overlooked in the past by governments and the public in general. As a result, consumers are exposed to foodborne illnesses due to the unhygienic practices in the preparation of foods at home and catering establishments, and poor environmental health condition of the food premises.

The Government of Ethiopia has declared that it is in the process of updating and modernizing the country’s food safety, animal and plant health system. This ongoing and evolving modernization process is in part attributed to the nation’s fast-moving, export oriented economic growth, which has spurred a rising number of retail and whole sale food outlets, restaurants and food manufacturers in the new industrial parks. However Ethiopia’s food safety regime is still in its early stages.

At present, food safety is economically driven to take advantage of international trade opportunities by increasing exports. On the other hand, the health benefits of safe food by reducing mortality and morbidity from foodborne diseases in the country and the substantial cost for hospitalization and treatment of the preventable diseases has not been well recognized by the concerned authorities. Our study shows that a lot has to be done to fill the gap that exists in the health manpower (quality and quantity of food inspectors), tools, equipment and laboratory facilities for food examination, legal and regulatory framework and codes of practice, that make enforcement difficult.

Many of the gaps should be gradually addressed by increasing public awareness of food safety through aggressive health education campaign and enforcing food safety and quality regulations effectively from farm to fork. The food markets, groceries, retail shops, the formal and informal food businesses need substantial structural and sanitary improvements to reduce the risk of contamination of raw and ready-to-eat foods by environmental hazards. All the studies carried out in other cities and towns of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa, Agaro, Bahir Dar, Mekelle, Zewai) have identified these urgent needs. This requires the active collaboration and coordination of the Ministries of Health, Agriculture including Fisheries, Trade and Industry, Tourism, Ethiopian Standard Institution, National Food Authority, local and municipal governments and, Consumers Associations.

In contrast food safety is one of the essential conditions for public health development which is not well understood and usually overlooked by the public health authorities. This is because the majority cases of foodborne illnesses are not reported since the initial symptoms of most of the diseases are not severe to require medical attention.

Although there are more than 250 foodborne diseases caused by pathogenic organisms that enter our food chain, the data we get from different sources on the morbidity and mortality of the diseases arising from these pathogens is the tip of the iceberg [2]. In 2015 WHO released the full results of the research on a broader analysis of the global burden of foodborne diseases undertaken by WHO’s Foodborne Diseases Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG).