By KETRA KALUNGA
MORE than 200 diseases are caused by food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
WHO further explains that the diseases caused by food contamination range from diarrhoea to cancers.
Contaminated foods are those that have gone bad because they contain micro-organisms such as bacteria or parasites as well as toxic substances that make them unfit for consumption.
Most foods get contaminated as a result of unclean water as well as unsafe and unregulated pesticides use in the fruit and vegetable sector.
WHO adds that exposure to certain chemicals or toxins in contaminated food can cause chronic illnesses such as cancer, liver damage and neurological disorders.
Furthermore, food contamination can also have a significant economic impact, particularly on food manufacturers and restaurants.
It also creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, the elderly and the sick.
But this can be prevented through the implementation of a Food Safety Management System (FSMS) which is a controlled process for managing food safety to ensure that all the food that is produced and even sold is up to quality standards and safe to consume.
To ensure food safety, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) Zambia, in partnership with FoodForAfrika.com, is implementing a year-long campaign titled “Safe and Healthy Food, Safe and Healthy Zambia” in Lusakasupported by Solidaridad Zambia.
The aim of this campaign is to give attention to food contamination as a result of unclean water and unsafe and unregulated pesticide use in the fruit and vegetables sector and create awareness through the media on food safety.
The campaign seeks to advocate for safer production and good practices as well as promote consumption of safer food.
This will be done through awareness-raising, knowledge-sharing, and encouraging an enabling policy environment that is pro-food safety in both the production and handling of food, says CUTS.
CUTS country director Angela Mulenga says the campaign focuses on creating advocacy on the policy environment for the upskilling of marketeers and farmers to improve their capacities in compliance with food safety measures taking into consideration all the provisions of the Food Safety Act of 2019.
Ms Mulenga says the objective of the communication campaign is to promote sustainable consumption that ultimately contributes to food and nutrition security as well as a healthy life for present and future generations.
It is also aimed at promoting the reduction of food contamination as a result of poor production and handling processes and the capacities of players in the fruit and vegetable value chain to comply with food safety measures and protocols, she says.
Ms Mulenga says the study conducted by CUTS in Lusaka in 2017 indicates that more than 60 per cent of households in low-income residential areas rely on informal street markets.
She says this is an area of concern because major challenges exist in informal markets in Lusaka as most of them do not meet the minimum health standards required to sell certain foods. Traders also face storage challenges, which remain poor and undeveloped.
“CUTS recently conducted research at two markets in Lusaka at Mtendere and Kazimai where it was discovered that most traders lacked storage facilities for preserving fruits and vegetables,
“The research also revealed an excessive influx of pesticides and fertilizers in the markets, which pose a threat to the health of the consumers,” she said.
Fruits and Vegetables Association of Zambia general secretary Gideon Kalima says as players in the fruit and vegetable value chain, they have ensured the safety of the product by promoting sanitation in trading places.
Mr Kalima says in an interview that the association has set up inbuilt fee-paying toilet at the fruits and vegetables main selling point along Mumbwa road where all the imported fruits are sold to the traders.
He however says in instances where traders sell in undesignated places, maintaining proper hygiene has been a challenge because such places mainly lacked sanitation facilities.
Mr Kalima attributes this challenge to people wanting to trade in crowded places so that they could quickly cash in, a situation that has led to the mushrooming of makeshifts that eventually turns into a full marketplace places not recognized by the local authorities.
“Sanitation in most markets is s challenge because we have so many makeshifts that have turned into markets with no water and toilets because they are known by the local authorities,” he says.
Mr Kalima has however welcomed the CUTS, Safe and Healthy Food, Safe and Health Zambia which he says is a good initiative that would attract a call to action from the government and other relevant stakeholders.
He says adhering to measures put in place to promote food safety cannot be overemphasized and should be supported by all players in the value chain.
The Zambia Compulsory Standards Agency (ZCSA) has welcomed the campaign as it will enhance compliance with food safety measures.
ZCSA head of communication Brian Hatyoka says the campaign goes a long way in supplementing the Agency’s mandate of protecting the consumer through public education programs.
Mr Hatyoka says the Agency stands ready to participate in the campaign and to cooperate with any organization that promotes public safety and health.
He commends CUTS Zambia for carrying out such a campaign to enhance compliance to food safety measures which he says is in line with the Agency’s mandate under the Compulsory Standards Act No. 3 2017.
Which he says is to administer, maintain and enforce compulsory standards for the purpose of public safety and health, consumer and environmental protection.
Promoting sustainable consumption that ultimately contributes to food and nutrition security as well as a healthy life for present and future generations cannot be overemphasised.