AFRICA – In a pivotal study released on World Food Safety Day, June 7, 2024, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) revealed crucial insights into how consumer and business reactions to government food safety initiatives can shape effective policies and ground-level interventions.

The findings underline the alignment of public and private interests in food safety, as both sectors strive to avoid reputational damage from foodborne illnesses.

The IFPRI research emphasized the importance of addressing information gaps in food safety.

Consumers often find it challenging to trace foodborne illnesses back to specific sources, complicating efforts to hold vendors accountable. This is further complicated by the long-term health impacts of contaminated food, which can be difficult to attribute to specific instances of exposure.

In Kenya, IFPRI collaborated with the Ministry of Health and the University of Nairobi to tackle this issue.

Researchers collected data on cancer-causing fungal toxins in maize flour across ten cities. This information was disseminated to mothers in low-income areas of Nairobi, increasing the proportion of safer maize flour in households from 25% to 33% within two months.

Empowering vendors and consumers

Independent safety ratings for food businesses can also drive improvements. In northern Ghana, a voluntary food safety rating program for roadside peanut snack vendors was tested.

Vendors who participated received training on sourcing safer raw materials, and their products were tested for contaminants. Those who displayed safety ratings produced less contaminated food, demonstrating the potential of such programs to empower consumers and improve vendor practices.

Enhancing slaughterhouse hygiene

IFPRI’s collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) through the CGIAR One Health Initiative extended to slaughterhouses in Kenya.

Managers and workers were trained and equipped to implement hygiene practices, including setting up handwashing stations and providing cleaning supplies.

Meat inspectors were incentivized to monitor hygiene practices, and workers in some slaughterhouses received performance bonuses based on these inspections. The results showed improved hygiene compliance and reduced bacterial contamination of knives and washing water.

Complex market dynamics

However, the study also highlighted complex market dynamics. In Kenyan slaughterhouses where interventions were implemented, more animals were processed daily, leading to higher contamination levels in meat despite improved hygiene practices.

This highlighted the need for carefully balancing business incentives with public health goals.

The research stresses the need for tailored interventions that account for the behaviors of consumers and businesses. By understanding these dynamics, policymakers can design more effective food safety strategies that enhance public health outcomes.

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