By Anna Claudia Duker
The Head of FISSD, Food and Drug Authority, Mr Ebenezer Kofi Essel has stated that the protocols recommended for the prevention of infection with COVID-19 has itself put a strain on major statutory activities including food regulation across the food supply spectrum worldwide.
According to him, a major pursuit expected of every National Food Regulatory Agency during this period is the intensification of measures that would ensure the continuous supply of safe and nutritious food.
Addressing a panel last Monday in Accra, in the first-ever video conference in commemoration of the 2nd World Food Safety Day on the theme “Food Safety, Everyone’s Business” said, “ Safe and nutritious food is essential in fighting the pandemic.”
Mr Essel noted reduced manpower and other logistical support has lead to suspension of some of the above regulatory activities such as Inspections (Local and Foreign), Market Surveillance, Import Controls and Laboratory Testing.
He noted, absence or reduced regulatory control during this period could potentially put consumer health and safety at risk and also, affect market authorization and trade facilitation.
He further stated the sources of infection include government workers (inspectors), factory workers, contractors, consumers and incoming packages.
He indicated to address the challenges the FDA has developed 10 Point Strategies and Innovations which include reviewed existing regulatory frameworks and situated them in the context of the pandemic –Guided by recommended protocols for fighting COVID-19
Others are, assessed the national food safety situation in the light of regulatory coverage along the food supply chain, Considered the use of technologies in the execution of some regulatory functions, Put together a comprehensive data on Food Businesses to facilitate risk categorization of these operations , Eased regulatory bureaucracies and administrative bottlenecks which do not necessarily enhance public health but rather discourages self-compliance.
The rest are, providing guidance to the food industry towards the implementation of Food Safety Management Systems based on the HACCP principles, Intensification of media interactions including public education on food safety and consumer awareness; traditional and largely social media, Made conscious efforts to deal swiftly and decisively with issues of regulatory infractions, being mindful not to create panic situations and Like in many crisis situation, Management of FDA is showing high level of Competence , Commitment and Leadership to overcome the challenges COVID-19 and the threat it presents to food control systems.
Mr. Kweku Quansah, Deputy Director-Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate, Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resource who emphasized on over crowding , poor hygiene and poor management of sanitation in the markets noted that sanctions have to be given to people who do not adhere to guidelines and social distancing in the market.
Speaking on decongesting and sanitation issue in our market during this COVID – 19 pandemic he indicated that, sensitization of the market women need to be sustained inorder for them to continually adhere to the COVID-19 protocols.
He further encouraged the use of the market broadcast systems and the market queen mothers who facilitated the process of fumigation, shift systems, washing of hand and the sanitizing of hands in the markets.
The Director, Women in Agriculture Development, Ministry of Food and Agriculture Mrs Paulina Addy has stated women in the markets need more training on handling and preserving food to avoid infections which could be deadly.
Addressing the panel on empowering market women in ensuring food safety in our markets during this COVID-19 pandemic Mrs Addy said during trainings for the women they discovered the markets need infrastructure upgrade and also the need to change guidelines for the markets.
Mrs Addy stated the Covid19 pandemic presents an opportunity for the women to be educated and trained to ensure the nation is fed with safe food.
On her part, Hon. Mercy Naa Afrowa Needjan, President, Greater Accra Market’s Association, has stated the virus has compounded their problems as the structures at the markets are old and lack space especially with the social distance guideline.
“Some of the COVID-19 protocols are difficult to comply” speaking on the “Challenges encountered by traders in the market during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
She added the markets are doing their best to comply with the guidelines as they engage in various stakeholders meeting to be educated on how to handle food.
Madam Needjan indicated that they have developed measures to prevent the spread of the virus by providing pointers to customers to use to avoid touching food, encouraging washing of hands and sanitizing hands after handling of money.
The President appealed to the government to expand the markets and also engage them frequently on the protocols and guidelines.