Food Safety 101: 4 Simple Steps Every Gambian Kitchen Should Follow

Friday, March 16, 2018

Imagine you are enjoying a bowl of “SouppaKanja” (okra soup) with the “works”- ox tail, cow foot, smoked fish and fresh okra. Then, without warning, youfallviolently ill—abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, chills, diarrhea—sometimes within hours. You might assume you have the flu, or a stomach virus. You probably wouldn’t think that tiny microscopic “bugs” (bacteria) in your food caused your illness; but more often, this is the case. That rich and delicious meal youate was supposed to nourish your body, but instead made you sick, or in the worst case, killed you!

Commonly referred to as food poisoning, foodborne illnesses occur by consuming foods or beverages contaminated with microorganisms or chemicals(2)(6)The World Health Organization (WHO)estimates that one out of every ten people will fall ill every year from consuming contaminated foods or beverages. An estimated 420,000 of these illnesses result in death. Alarmingly,more than 1/3 of all foodborne illness and deaths worldwide occurs on the African continent. The WHO reports that in Africa, 91 million people fall ill, and 137,000 people die each year from contaminated food. Microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses,parasites, or mold mycotoxins can flourish in food that is not properly stored or is under-cooked.Africa is especially prone to food contamination due tolack of adequate refrigeration;preparing food with unclean water; inadequate practices in food production; low levels of literacy/education; and insufficient food safety regulations.

Mild foodborne illnesses cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, and fatigue.  Severe cases can result in kidney or liver failure,paralysis, cancer, or even death according to the WHO. (3)These illnesses can take effect immediately and can last for days, weeks, months, or even years.  The most predominant germs that cause foodborne illnesses globallyare “non-typhoidal Salmonella, Salmonella Typhi, foodborne cholera, and those caused by pathogenic E. coli.” Listeria is one such example of a foodborne pathogenic diseasecaused by a bacterium found in soil, water, vegetation,and in certain animals.(4)On January 18th, 2018, published in the Food Safety Paper, Dan Flynn wrote about the deadliestlisteriosis outbreak in history that occurred in South Africa. An estimated 1,000 cases of illness and 180 deaths resulted from a single Listeriosis outbreak.(5)The Listeria bacteria can be present in raw milk, dairy products, poultry, or raw sprouts. It can also live in food processing plants, which make processed foods especially susceptible for contamination. Accordingly, an investigation revealed that a ready-to-eat meat product known as “polony” waslikely the cause of the outbreak.According to WHO, this devastating incident was the largest listeriosis outbreak ever recorded globally. This outbreak could have been avoided if the proper food safety steps were taken from the farm to the fork. 

There are several ways germs canend upin food products. The water content in raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, fruits, and vegetables provide an optimal living environment for these microorganisms that are naturally omnipresent.Microorganisms can be both good and bad, however, those that can cause disease are called pathogens. Pathogens are transferred from raw products to cooked food through poor food handling or poor hygiene practices. This contamination can occur at any point of the food production and preparation process, from the farm to the table.

Now, the big question is, how can you prevent food borne illnesses? 

There are 4 ways to prevent food borne illnesses according to the CDC.  “Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.”(1)

1.         Cooking food properly is a very important stepinpreventing bacteria from multiplying rapidly.  Raw foods such as beef and lamb must be cooked at a minimum of 62.8 °C to keep food safe.  Poultry products must be cooked at a minimum temperature of 73.9 °C.

2.         Cleaning the area you cook and handle food isequally important.  Good hygiene practices, such as hand washing, using clean utensils, and working in a clean area is very critical.  Pots and pans must be washed with soap before and after use with clean water. 

1.         Keeping cold food chilled at the right temperature is another way to prevent foodborne illnesses.  Cold foods need to chill at 4.4 °Cor below.In the event that the power goes out,move foods from the fridge to the freezer. Food in your freezer can be safely refrozen if it thaws as long as it still contains ice crystals or is at 4.4 °C or below. As a food safety caution, discard foods that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.(9)

3.         Separating fruits and vegetables from raw foods will reduce the risk of cross contamination.  How you store the fresh fruits and vegetables is also important.

There is a lot you can do to handle and prepare your food safely at homein order to avoid foodborne illnesses.  With the high temperatures in the hot summer months, care must be taken to keep foods that require refrigeration cold and ample heat for foods that need to stay hot.  Be vigilant and separate raw foods from cooked foods.  Preparing foods in clean and sanitized areas greatly reduce the incidence and chance of contaminating foods. 

In conclusion, now that you are educated on food safety, and if you follow the simple steps outlined in this article, you can feel confident about the next round of“SouppaKanja” you eat.  I urge you to recognize that the first step to keepingyourself and others safe from foodborne illness is to pay close attention when preparing food, and stay aware of the environment in which the food is stored. Whether you are cooking for your home or for others outside the home, four simple steps can keep food safe, keep everyone healthy, and even save lives.

As said by Mahatma Gandhi, “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” To maintain a healthy lifestyle, cleanliness plays a vital part. That is why, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Kunna Faal is currently a graduate student at Michigan State University.  She’s doing is doing her Master of Science in Food Safety program and working on a school assignment.

The assignment is to do something to educate/improve food safety in her workplace, children’s school, community using her Food Safety Leadership skills.   

She chooses to write a food safety article for a local newspaper published in The Gambia because no matter where in the world, she’s a Gambia and will always aspire to make a difference in her Country.

 One of my ultimate goals is to help eliminate food safety problems before they even start.  My article is just to raise Food Safety Awareness in the Gambia.



2.         Keep Food Safe

3.         Foodborne Illness: What Consumers Need to Know

4.         Foodborne diseases:

5.         Dan Flynn;  South Africa hit by deadliest listeriosis outbreak in history


7.         What is Food Poisoning: