Food Safety and Informal Markets: Animal Products in Sub-Saharan Africa

Animal products – meat, milk, eggs and fish – are vital components of the diets and livelihoods of people across sub-Saharan Africa. However, these nutritious food products are also the most risky. Most food-borne disease is caused by perishable foods: meat, milk, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables.

Food borne-disease can be serious. In a minority of cases, it can cause epilepsy, paralysis, kidney failure and death. In addition, the global economic burden of food-borne disease is significant. Annually, food-borne disease is estimated to cost US$78 billion in the United States of America, US$14 billion in China and US$3 billion in Nigeria.

Over 80% of the meat, milk, eggs and fish produced in developing countries is sold in traditional or informal markets. These markets are accessible, sell affordable food and provide market access to small-scale farmers. However, informal markets often lack adequate refrigeration, inspection and control of food-borne disease.

For over a decade, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners have been conducting research on food safety in informal markets to support intensifying livestock production by building capacity for better management of the safety of animal food products.

A newly published book launched two weeks ago (27 Jan 2015) at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters presents a review of food safety in informal markets and 25 case studies of the meat, milk and fish sectors in eight countries in East, West and southern Africa, as part of the Safe Food, Fair Food project.

A key finding from the book is that in low-income countries it is important to distinguish between the potential food-borne hazards (such as harmful bacteria, chemicals and toxins) and the actual risks they are likely to present to consumers.

For example, data from East Africa show that although the raw milk available from street vendors and traditional markets may contain many health hazards, the actual risks to consumers may be negligible due to the common practice of boiling milk before consuming it.

“Food safety policy should be guided by rigorous research to understand the ways food is produced and consumed in different societies so we can devise strategies that are most likely to reduce the risks, particularly to poor consumers,” said Kristina Roesel, coordinator of the Safe Food, Fair Food project.

“Improving food safety in informal markets will require policies that are guided by an understanding of producer and consumer behaviour, local diets and customs, and interventions that can reduce illness without imperilling food security or increasing poverty,” said Delia Grace, program leader for food safety at ILRI.

Download the book, Food Safety and Informal Markets: Animal Products in Sub-Saharan Africa, edited by Kristina Roesel and Delia Grace.