Food Safety


Women threshing sorghum in Angonia province, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

There are too many issues with using lactic acid bacteria for aflatoxin binding for the practice to be safely promoted, according to a newly published review. The review adds that using aflatoxin binders in human food might even worsen food safety in the longer term.

“Use of binding agents in foods contradicts all the existing principles and regulations set to ensure food safety. If such a method is promoted, the efforts to combat the aflatoxin problem at farm level and throughout the value chain, to eliminate and reduce the contaminants, could be compromised,” the study says.

Aflatoxins continue to be a food safety problem globally, especially in developing regions. A significant amount of effort and resources have been invested to control aflatoxins. However, these efforts have not substantially decreased the prevalence nor the dietary exposure to aflatoxins in developing countries. 

One approach to aflatoxin control is the use of binding agents in foods, and lactic acid bacteria have been studied extensively for this purpose. However, when assessing the results comprehensively and reviewing the practicality and ethics of use, risks are evident and concerns arise. 

The study notes that aflatoxin binding research has approached the issue from a one-component ‘silver bullet’ solution instead of focusing on a comprehensive approach to aflatoxin control that considers good agricultural practices at the farm level and good manufacturing practices during production. 

Promoting increased diversity of diets, particularly of staple crops, may contribute towards reduced exposure to aflatoxins. Additionally, the role of food safety authorities needs to be strengthened to safeguard food quality in both formal and informal markets.

Citation

Ahlberg, S., Randolph, D., Okoth, S. and Lindahl, J. 2019. Aflatoxin binders in foods for human consumption—Can this be promoted safely and ethically? Toxins 11(7): 410.

CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health 2018 annual report cover

The CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) has published its 2018 annual report, highlighting program activities and research results from across A4NH’s five research flagships and five focus countries. These include:

  • research into consumer choices, motives and barriers through the lens of vegetable consumption in urban Nigeria;
  • building the evidence base with newly-published research that shows biofortified high-iron pearl millet can significantly improve nutrition and cognitive performance;
  • significant research contributions to help policymakers and consumers understand food safety issues and risks;
  • how agriculture and nutrition interventions delivered through community-based childcare centres can impact nutrient intake, dietary diversity and nutritional status;
  • improving hospital diagnostics for human brucellosis; and
  • an exploration of gender research projects being conducted under A4NH.
Food market near Khulungira Village, in central Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).
Food market near Khulungira Village, in central Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Today marks the first ever World Food Safety Day following the adoption in December 2018 of a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly to set aside 7 June of every year to celebrate the benefits of safe food and inspire action towards preventing and managing foodborne diseases.

In Asia and Africa, most livestock products and fresh produce are sold in informal markets. The human health burden from foodborne disease is comparable to that of malaria, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis. Unsafe food is also a barrier to market access for poor farmers.

Food safety is a key part of the research portfolio of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ILRI leads the food safety flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). This flagship seeks food safety solutions that can work in informal markets; it focuses primarily on mitigating aflatoxin contamination in key staples and on managing risks in informal markets for nutrient-rich perishables like meat, milk, fish and vegetables.

Our approach to food safety research is based on risk analysis. We identify the hazards in food and build the capacity of policymakers to understand risk-based approaches; policy will be more effective and efficient if based on actual risk to human health rather than the presence of hazards. We generate evidence and develop solutions to improve the safety of animal products in informal food markets.

Better management of foodborne diseases could save nearly half a million lives a year and safeguard the livelihoods of over one billion small-scale livestock producers. Indeed, there is no food security without food safety.

Some of the collaborative food safety projects that ILRI has led in the past include work on mitigating the risk of mycotoxins in the feed–dairy value chain in Kenya, improving food safety in smallholder pig value chains in Vietnam and food safety risk assessment and piloting of food safety interventions in eight countries in Africa.

Our current food safety projects seek to test market-based approaches to improve food safety in Cambodia, Vietnam, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.  

Listed below are some recent publications on food safety by ILRI and partners.

For more information on ILRI’s food safety research, contact the A4NH food safety flagship leader Delia Grace Randolph (d.randolph@cgiar.org).

Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).
Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Foodborne disease is a major public health problem in poor countries, but we lack effective, sustainable and scalable approaches that work in the traditional, informal markets where most fresh, risky food is sold.

A promising intervention is working with informal sector vendors to provide training and technologies, an enabling environment, and motivation for behaviour change.

A case study published in the March 2019 issue of the journal Infection Ecology & Epidemiology presents a long-term follow-up of a pilot project to improve food safety in Bodija abattoir and meat market, one of the largest markets in Nigeria.

An evaluation shortly after implementation found the intervention was acceptable, cost-effective and resulted in safer meat. The follow-up nine years later used qualitative surveys and microbiological tests.

The policy environment had become disabling, partly because of attempts by the authorities to move butchers to a modern, hygienic but more distant abattoir; this was resisted by the butchers.

Authorities revoked the licence for Bodija market and stopped providing services. Matters escalated and forceful attempts to remove butchers resulted in deaths followed by riots. Meat safety deteriorated.

The case study shows the importance of an enabling environment and need for stakeholder collaboration in attempting to improve food safety in the traditional sector.

Access the article, Improving food safety in the informal sector: nine years later by Delia Grace, Morenike Dipeolu and Silvia Alonso.

Makara market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Makara market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (photo credit: ILRI/Hardisman Dasman).

The safety of food is a global concern and it is widely acknowledged that there can be no food security without food safety. Indeed, food safety is closely linked to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

A technical brief titled Food safety and the Sustainable Development Goals sets out the linkages between food safety and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), identifies priority issues and suggests how investments in food safety can help attain the SDGs. The focus is on low- and middle-income countries whose development needs are most urgent and where the burden of foodborne disease is highest.

The brief discusses both the likely role of food safety in contributing to or retarding progress to meet the SDGs as well as the interventions or responses that can maximise benefits and reduce risks. It draws attention to unintended consequences of food safety interventions, which, while attempting to improve public health, may jeopardise other objectives such as improving nutrition or gender equity.

Access the brief, Food safety and the Sustainable Development Goals by Delia Grace, joint leader of the Animal and Human Health program at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

ILRI Clippings

Written by Silvia Alonso

Veterinary epidemiologist Silvia Alonso works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where she contributes to the food safety flagship of the CGIAR Research Program for Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which is led by ILRI’s sister organization the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Alonso had some eye-popping things to say about food safety in Africa at the ‘First FAO/WHO/AU International Food Safety’ conference, held in Addis Ababa, 12–13 Feb 2019.

But first, for context, see below what The Economist Espresso had to say about this week’s food safety conference in the Ethiopian capital, where a Global Food Safety Partnership report was launched, to which ILRI scientists made many contributions (Hungry for change: Food safety (12 Feb 2019).

‘With an estimated 600m cases each year, food-borne diseases are an under-appreciated public-health problem. Africa, which suffers 137,000…

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Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (photo credit: ILRI/Valentin Bognan Koné).
Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (photo credit: ILRI/Valentin Bognan Koné).

Donor investment in food safety in sub-Saharan Africa should have greater focus on the needs of consumers in Africa, according to a new report by the Global Food Safety Partnership.

The report, Food safety in Africa: Past endeavors and future directions, analysed donor investment in over 500 food safety projects undertaken in sub-Saharan Africa since 2010. It found that more than half of these projects were focused on overseas markets and less than half on consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, most of whom rely on informal food markets and bear the greatest health burden of unsafe food.

According to estimates from the World Health Organization, foodborne disease in Africa results in 137,000 deaths and 91 million cases of illness a year. Globally, foodborne disease has a public health burden similar to HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Recognizing that food safety is essential to the success of Africa’s agriculture-led development strategies, the report’s authors, whose partners included the International Livestock Research Institute and the African Development Bank, make three key recommendations for targeted investment aimed at improving food safety in sub-Saharan Africa:

Better address the health of domestic consumers dependent on informal markets. Governments and international donors should put citizen health at the heart of national food safety systems, establishing health-based goals, priorities, metrics and strategies and helping to generate the missing evidence needed for rational planning.

Build capacity for well-governed, evidence- and risk-based food safety systems. The donor community and national governments should endorse principles of science- and risk-based prevention, adapted to local conditions.

Harness today’s marketplace drivers of progress on food safety. Donors and national governments should support the consumer and marketplace drivers of progress on food safety through well-informed and empowered consumers, able to demand food safety, and a private sector that has capacity and accountability to respond to consumer demand.

Access the report, Food safety in Africa: Past endeavors and future directions, and related resources

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