Unsafe food costs Ghana US$69 million annually – Expert Says

The total number of outpatients reported cases of foodborne diseases in Ghana is about 420,000 per year

Food safety expert, Mr John Oppong-Otoo, has chastised the government for its failure to carry out sustained exposure assessments on food to ascertain the level of risk for all contaminants in food they consume.

Though exposure assessment has been done elsewhere in Ghana it is said to be limited, largely due to the unavailability of funds to carry out the research.

According to Mr Oppong-Otoo, who is also the CODEX Alimentarius Manager at the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), the risks associated with consuming unsafe food should prompt government to commission such a research.

“When we do the exposure assessments, we find out the levels that Ghanaians are exposed to. Then we compare it with a certain health-based value. If the exposure is higher then there is risk. An exposure assessment will form the basis of a risk management programme,” he said at a workshop on food safety for selected journalists in Accra.

Unsafe foods

The total number of outpatients reported cases of foodborne diseases in Ghana is about 420,000 per year, with an annual death rate estimated at 65,000 and total cost to the economy at US$69 million.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has alluded to the fact that unsafe food poses global health threats and endangers everyone, including infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with an underlying illness.

WHO estimates that about three million pesticide poisoning is recorded annually in developing countries. This accounts for 220,000 deaths annually.

There is a growing consumer demand for wider variety of foods and which has resulted in an increasingly complex global food chain.

As of now, Mr Oppong-Otoo said, consumers in Ghana have no knowledge of the levels of additives they are exposed to as they consume the numerous products on the markets such as fruits juices.

“The numerous pesticides on all the food products; what is the level of consumption? People have done individual work but we are talking about the country. Is the nation at risk? These can only be answered by risk assessment and that is why it is important that as a country we start venturing into some of these things,” he said.

He emphasised it was important for the citizenry to know what they were consuming because some of the chemicals in the products accumulate.

“If a pesticide contains chlorine its gets into the human tissue and get deposited in the body tissue, and they don’t degrade. They are just there. They pile up so you live with, so it is as if you are dying by installment and they have all kinds of effect,” he said.

CODEX Alimentarius

WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as part of efforts to help member states to build capacity to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks, established the CODEX Alimentarius (food code) in 1963.

It provides independent scientific assessments on microbiological and chemical hazards that form the basis for international food standards, guidelines and recommendations to ensure food is safe wherever it originates. Ghana became a member of Codex in 1966.

Subsequently, there is a National Codex Committee (NCC) with an oversight responsibility for Codex activities, which include advising government on all the implications of various food standardisation, food quality and safety issues and identifying organisations to take action and where necessary commission studies for generation of data.

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