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Making Giant strides In the Vanguard of Food Safety,ZAINAB AKANJI

Despite the Health and food safety industry’s best efforts, food-borne illnesses and food recalls which are becoming regular occurrences in restaurants and food chains across the country.
These instances are not only dangerous to public health, but also disastrous to business operations and brand reputations Adejare Adejobi writes….
Jollof rice, Eba, efo riro, ewedu, edikaikong, white soup, uziza, banga, meat and fish, these are just a few of the most familiar dishes in Nigeria, a continent renowned for having some of the best cuisines in the world.
With fast-growing economies, a burgeoning middle class and complex supply chains, Nigeria faces a growing array of food safety challenges.
These are giving rise to innovative solutions and collaborative initiatives by private sector players like the First HACCP Limited, Lagos and other state governments  across the nation.
More than half of all food-borne illness outbreaks in  Nigeria are associated with  poor food handling  by restaurants, banquet facilities, schools and other institutions according to the global Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Environmental Health Specialists Network (CDC's) Surveillance for Foodborne Disease Outbreak.
It is clear no one is immune to the problem.
Fast food chains across the country from Mr Biggs, to Chicken Republic, Sweet Sensation, Margellos and local joints populary called Buka’s,  are hot spots for food outbreaks involving three different foodborne illness: E.coli, Salmonella and norovirus, to mention a few. In the midst of the crisis, these restaurant’s stock price are daily suffering due to issues ranging from, byt not limited to food poisoning,  and other  food-borne ilnesses. And while unsuspecting Nigerians are working are suffering with the government turning a blind eye to this growing concern, a Zainab Akanji is one Nigerian who has stood tall as a crusader through tough and a hard terrain, to address the problem through training and food safety consultancy, offering  an all-staff food safety refresher training to the food and  health  industry.
If the food industry  must recover from the quick  collapse in food safety across the country most retain millions of Nigerians, before a major catastrophic cautionary tale hits one of the many food brands among them,  It is apparent the industry as a whole must do more to properly secure our  local food chain in line with global food chain best practice.
With this void, Nigerian, Zainab Akanji, United Kingdom certified Food safety Consultant, and a chartered institute of environment trainer , is fast making a mark in giant strides through plain-language summaries of the study findings and recommendations ,setting an agenda for the Nigerian government and the restaurant industry who are daily using these findings to develop effective interventions to improve food safety in restaurants.
Passionately speaking on some of the causes of food-borne illnesses that innocent and unsuspecting consumer suffer from- cooking practices, she was to quick t link  E. coli O157:H7 infections and eating in restaurants.
From experience, she enthuses that poor beef preparation practices, cross-contamination of other foods , and undercooking can lead to food-borne illness.
From a survey and independent research carried out by her firm First HACCP Limited, the report found that many restaurants prepared food in ways that could lead to cross contamination or undercooking. For example, in 62% of restaurants where workers used bare hands to handle raw beef, workers did not wash their hands after handling it.
And about 80% of managers said that they did not always use a thermometer to make sure that their foods were cooked to the right temperature. This lapse shows the dearth of kitchen managers who are duly certified in food safety, talk less practice or run food chain and restaurants.
When quizzed on what the ideal role of the government in handling Practices of food borne illnesses especially with the frequency of inadequate prevention of cooking practices, she had the following to say, ‘‘Poultry is the most common food associated with deaths from food-borne illness all over the world. Food-borne illness outbreaks have been associated with fresh produce like poor Restaurants’ handling practices, which contribute to food-borne illness outbreaks.
The government needs to look at receiving and training restaurant workers, and that is my forte.  Most restaurants do not meet the  global Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) guidelines, for  ejecting shipments and refrigerating  foods, especially  leafy greens at 41°F or below. The government needs to establish the need to contribute to a better understanding of the causes of restaurant-related food-borne illness outbreaks and to translate that understanding into improved prevention practices. ’’
Additionally, for the fear of loosing their job, food Worker Experiences with and Beliefs about Working While ill with vomiting can transmit germs, diarrhea and food-borne illnesses from themselves to the food they prepare. People who eat that food can then get sick. This is an equally important cause of food-borne illness outbreaks. And so restaurant, food chain operators need to learn more about factors that influence restaurant workers’ decisions to work while sick.
Drawing inference from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which President Obama signed into law in 2011, ‘‘it was a critical step forward.  This Act which It addresses the single biggest factor needed for food supply safety success — a focus on proactive strategies to prevent recalls and illness outbreaks. Industry best practices have now been turned into law in America, and it is time that Nigeria works together to make it easy to implement the new regulations.’’ Zainab Akanji enthused.
Through a proactive and preventative control approach, driving an a note of advice to the Federal Ministry of Health, she added, ‘‘Nigeria needs to further  push toward proactive food safety measures — to extend beyond its traditional reactive role. The Ministry has the power to to stop unsafe and possibly contaminated food from entering the food supply, but it is not.
To best comply with these requirements, companies need to consider implementing better visualization, documentation and communication tools that can deliver better insight into food safety processes.’’
‘Disclosing key ways to leverage technology tools based on tenets of the Preventative Controls rule,’’the government should seek to analyse the hazard risks, test for preventive controls such as allergen and sanitation controls, keep a watchful eye, hope for the best but plan for the worst, renew its dedication to leveraging the best tools and technologies to support food safety strategies and  around the goals and objectives of a proactive food safety program, and most importantly create testing programs to ensure controls and corrective actions are effective.
As most food companies do not have strong HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical control Points) plans in place, taking into account food safety hazards which pervade the life of the average Nigerian. Organizations in the food industry need to have immediate access to both current and historical situations at control points to easily see their proximity to each other, as well as to other components.’’ She harped.
Most concerning to Nigerians and analysts are the possible outbreaks involving two strains of E. coli, bacteria that can cause severe intestinal cramps, diarrhea and fever.
The huge cost of those outbreaks would become apparent when it comes as a crisis, nesetitating for the government to import New food safety equipment and procedures, testing done to try to determine the cause of the problems and the cost of discarding food, hiring auditors and consultants and training employees in new procedures.
 The dire need to overhaul its food safety regime before it denigrates to such level beneath health and food safety standards, the government has the responsibility of bringing the risk of contamination to “near zero.”
Our food-onions, vegetables, fruits, need to be cleaned in a central location and packed in sealed containers, then transported or shipped to individual restaurants.
The foods we consume that arrive in the restaurants should ideally be blanched in boiling water to kill microbes, and raw meat is being handled differently, All suppliers, especially ones with high-risk items like meat and produce, need to implement high-resolution DNA testing, Akanji told THISDAY.
Giving a solution to the panacea of poor company polices that hamper the health  and safety of consumers,’’ the Federal government must ensure food companies institute a paid sick leave policy, unusual in the fast-food business.’’ the food safety expert opined.
Food safety is a key issue for consumers in Nigeria,” says Zainab Akanji, Principal Consultant at First HACCP Lagos, a pan-African industry group with its headquarters in Lagos and United Kingdom . “Over 70 percent of Senior executives who attend her firms routine trainings and leaders debate that food safety as being the issue that will have the greatest impact on consumer preference in Nigeria in coming years.”
Akanji explains that the question was posed as part of an opinion poll conducted by aunit of the first HACCP group with the topic of food safety polling considerably higher than other issues, including sustainable sourcing, genetically modified ingredients, health and wellness, and price,” she elaborates.
In a follow-up question, the audience chose cost of regulation and poor enforcement as the biggest barriers to growth for the food industry in Nigeria, Zainab continues. “These issues polled higher than things like access to technology, human resource capability, cost of raw materials, and route to market/poor infrastructure,” she says.
Not surprisingly, addressing food safety and harmonization of regulations feature prominently in my work plans through the year. By serving as the leading industry platform for non-competitive debate in Nigeria, Zainab aims to promote the value of self-regulation and public-private partnership as a cost-effective way of delivering wider benefits to society, She says.
“We also believe in harmonized standards, especially in the context of food quality and safety,” the food safety expert relates.
“By harnessing the technical expertise of our food companies, we work with appropriate authorities to accelerate the removal of trade barriers and promote the alignment of standards with international best practice.”She enthused.
 “A key focus of my five-year strategic plan will be accelerating food safety improvements in Nigeria, by scaling up capacity building and providing local trade associations with scientific information, education, and industry best practice,” she says.
When asked on best possible ways to Leveraging Resources to Help Local Food Systems with Food Safety, she said,‘‘Food safety research and training programs for local food systems require partnerships between local food entities and groups, universities, and state and federal government.
A good starting point for the training efforts, require collaboration with state health departments that may be contracted as third-party inspectors for  Stakeholders in the local food marketing chain, such as retail food stores. State departments of agriculture and health could be strong partners with universities in developing and delivering outreach programs related to risk assessment and regulatory compliance for farmers’ markets and food safety programs. Creating a Nigerian Food Safety Inspection Service would be an appropriate starting point for research and training efforts related to meat, poultry, dairy, and egg products not inspected by the health institutions.’’
The impact of food safety standards on processed foods imported and exports in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised, as practically, there is ample room for Nigeria’s health sector and related food safety policies to tweak the standards to be stronger than necessary to achieve optimal levels of social protection, and to twist the related testing and certification procedures to make Nigeria’s competing products competitive with imports.

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