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WHO advice: Consumers need to read labels when buying and preparing food

Apr 8, 2015, 11:51 AM | Article By: Cherno Omar Bobb

Consumers need to take care to avoid consuming unsafe food by reading product labels when buying food, and learning how to cook specific foods that may be hazardous, like raw chicken, said the National Programme officer of the World Health Organisation.

Alpha Jallow made this statement at a press briefing on Monday as part of the 2015 World Health Day, celebrated annually on 7 April.  The briefing was held at the office of the Food Safety and Quality Authority along Kairaba Avenue.

Cognizant of the challenges and opportunities associated with food safety, the theme of this year’s World Health Day is: “From farm to plate, make food safe”. 

Officials at the function said the theme highlights the urgent need for governments, food businesses and consumers to put measures in place that would improve food safety from the point of production to consumption.

Mr Jallow said consumers play important roles in promoting food safety through practising safe food hygiene, learning how to cook specific foods and reading labels when buying and preparing foods.

The WHO Five Keys to Safer Food explain the basic principles that each individual should know all over the world to prevent foodborne diseases caused by unsafe food.

Unsafe foods include undercooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with faeces, and shellfish containing marine biotoxins.

WHO national programme officer said unsafe food could contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, and causes more than 200 diseases including diarrhoea and cancers.

He said that in view of the fact that unsafe foods pose global threats, there is a need for coordinated, cross-border action across the entire food supply chain.

Efforts to prevent outbreak of foodborne diseases could be strengthened through development of robust food safety systems that drive collective government and public action to safeguard against chemical or microbial contamination of food.

Mr Jallow said global and national level measures could also be taken, including using international platforms like the joint WHO-FAO International Food Safety Authorities Network to ensure effective and rapid communication during food safety emergencies.

“Food safety is a crosscutting issue and shared responsibility that requires participation of non-public health sectors such as agriculture, trade and commerce, environment, tourism and support from major international and regional agencies and organizations active in the fields of food, emergency aid and education,” he said.

“Everyone has a role to play in making food safe,” he added, saying that food handlers and consumers should be familiar with common food hazards, and handle and prepare food safely.

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director General, is quoted to have said that industrialisation and globalisation of food production and distribution, respectively, introduced multiple new opportunities for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals.

As a result, local food safety problem could rapidly become an international emergency.

“Investigation of an outbreak of foodborne disease is vastly more complicated when a single plate or package of food contains ingredients from multiple countries,” Dr Chan said.

Zainab Jallow, director general of Food Safety and Quality Authority (FSQA), said food safety would not only help reduce the burden on the health sector but would also save government finances that could be spent on outbreak of foodborne diseases for other development priorities.

She said this is why The Gambia government is trying to be more preventive than reactive to ensure that food consumed in the country is safe.