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Food is any substance which when consumed provides nutritional support for the body. It may be of plant or animal origin, containing the known five essential nutrients namely, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals; which helps the body to perform the basic functions of life. In appropriate handling or contamination of food could lead to death (Food poisoning) this explains why food safetyis a major issue of concern to consumers.
Food poisoning can be the result of either chemical poisoning or the ingestion of toxicants. The toxicant might be found naturally in certain plants and animals or be a toxic metabolic product excreted by microorganisms. Therefore bacteria food intoxication refers to food borne illness caused by the presence of a bacteria toxin formed in food, other could be as a result of viruses, parasites, heavy metal presence in food substance, high concentration of pesticides residues in plant tissue etc.
Food poisoning, also called food-borne illness, is illness caused by eating contaminated food. This could be as a result of the infectious organisms such as: bacteria, viruses and parasites etc.Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point during its processing or production.
Emerging diseases are tied to food production
More than 200 diseases are spread through food; approximately 75% of the new infectious diseases affecting humans over the past 10 years were caused by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that started in animals and animal products. Many of these diseases in people are related to the handling of infected domestic and wild animals during food production.
Millions of people fall ill every year and many die as a result of eating unsafe food. Diarrhea diseases alone kill an estimated 1.5 million children annually, and most of these illnesses are attributed to contaminated food or water.
Food borne diseases occur commonly in developing countries particularly in Africa because of the prevailing poor food handling and sanitation practices, inadequate food safety laws, weak regulatory systems,and lack of education for food-handlers.
Globalization of food production and trade increases the likelihood of international incidents involving contaminated food. Imported food products and ingredients are common in most countries, most especially when conditions prevailing are not favorable for its cultivation. Stronger food safety systems in export countries can reinforce both local and cross-border health security.
Food safety is of major concern globally due to the high profile health implications linked to food poisoning. Particularly of importance are Mycotoxins (aflatoxins); produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus, aflatoxins are naturally occurring fungal toxins abundant in the soil. Since they originates in the soil, the biochemical risk of aflatoxin contamination begins with planting, and can be worsened later through inappropriate harvesting, handling, storage, processing, and transport practices which contaminate food products such as maize, groundnut, as well as other crops.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC ) an arm of the WHO, placed aflatoxin on the list of human carcinogens; which can cause immune-suppression, cancer, and growth reduction in animals. In some cases, consumption of high levels of aflatoxins has resulted in deaths of animals and human beings alike. Studies in Nigeria also show high levels of aflatoxin contamination in most cereal crops due to poor handling and processing methods.
Aflatoxins also impact international trade. Globally, about US$1.2 billion in commerce is lost annually due to aflatoxin contamination, with African economies losing US$450 million each year due to lost trade. Agricultural products that have more than the permissible level of contamination (four parts per billion in the EU) are banned, irrespective of the source or worth. Exported goods have to comply with the food safety and quality requirements of importing countries, and quality plays an important role in increasing trade volumes and assuring the competitiveness of African food products. With agricultural development a global priority, local procurement and robust market access efforts are being scaled up in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, food quality and safety issues resulting from aflatoxin contamination have presented a significant obstacle to programs designed to improve nutrition and agricultural production while linking small farmers to markets.
Economically, quite a number of agricultural produce have been rejected in the international markets due to high level of aflatoxin presence insuch food substance. This has cost Nigeria some appreciable resources should such produce meet the safe level requirement for consumption.
GOOD AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES (GAPs)
Good Agricultural Practices refers to a collection of principles to apply for on-farm production and post-production processes, resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products, while taking into account economical, social and environmental sustainability. They are ways that produce growers can prevent on-farm contamination of agricultural produce.
These practices are related to
· Environmental conservation e.g. maintaining good soil condition,
· Good production technique that guarantees food safety,
· Application of fertilizers and pesticides at appropriate moments and in adequate doses.
· Prevent chemical and medical residues from entering the food chain
· Minimizing non-therapeutic use of antibiotics or hormones
· Avoid feeding animals with animal wastes or animal matter (reducing the risk of alien viral or transgenic genes)
· Preventing chemical and medical residues from entering the food chain
· Apply traceability processes on the whole production chain for consumer security and feedback possibility in case of a food crisis.
A number of measures are have been agreed on by food safety experts all over the globe to ensure food safety across international borders giving consideration to the different peculiarity of the different countries in compliance with Good Agricultural Practices.
Some of these measures are enforced as criteria for certification by voluntary certification bodies reputable with customer’s confidence in Europe and different part of the world. Certification bodies such as GLOBALG.A.P., Field to Fork, Fair trade, Rainforest etc.
In Nigeria, Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) sets standards on many food commodities, taking into account global standards as well as national production and target export markets requirements. This is also through for National Agency For Food And Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) whose mission is to safeguard Public health by ensuring that quality food, drugs are manufactured, exported and consumed.
COLEACP support in Nigeria
COLEACP is a non-profit inter-professional association, representing and defending the collectiveinterests of ACP producers/exporters and EU importers of fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants.Its specialized information and advisory services are open to all ACP companies in the horticultural export sector and are financed by the European Commission.
It has two overriding objectives: to enable ACP companies to comply with European food safety and traceability requirements, and to consolidate the position of small-scale producers in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific horticultural export sectors.
Nigeria is setting the stage to join other communities in the World in compliance with food safety in the horticultural sector through the support of COLEACP. This will help in ensuring the adoption of new agricultural models combining innovations, new technologies and sustainable agricultural practices. Click here to read more
 Courtesy: International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Some traditional herbal medicines, some mycotoxins,
napthalene and styrene (IARC monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, 82), 2002, pp. 171-300.
Tackling killer aflatoxins in African food crops