KENYA – In observance of World Food Safety Day on June 7, the Kenyan government has issued a warning about the dangers of aflatoxin in maize that is milled across the country. 

Kello Harsama, the Agriculture Principal Secretary, emphasized that aflatoxin poses a significant challenge to food safety in Kenya

One of the main concerns highlighted by Harsama is that farmers and many Kenyans, particularly those milling flour in posho mills, fail to adequately dry their maize to the required moisture content of 13.5%.

Harsama pointed out that there is currently no testing of aflatoxin in posho mills, with only large-scale and some small-scale millers having the capacity to conduct such tests before milling. 

The unregulated nature of many posho mills in the villages exacerbates this issue, as they lack the means to test maize for aflatoxin. 

To address this problem, the government plans to collaborate with counties to ensure that maize milled in posho mills undergoes aflatoxin testing.

Food safety, according to Harsama, is a significant concern, with greater emphasis typically placed on food exported from the country. 

He stressed the need to prioritize the safety of food consumed domestically. To achieve this, the government has empowered the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBs) to ensure the safety of locally produced food.

The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights the critical role of food standards in saving lives, as over one million people worldwide fall ill daily due to unsafe food. 

Shockingly, preventable foodborne diseases claim the lives of approximately 340 children under the age of five every day, with unsafe food causing a range of illnesses from diarrhea to cancer. 

WHO estimates that one in ten people worldwide experience foodborne diseases annually, underscoring the importance of food standards in ensuring safe consumption.

Regarding legislation, Harsama confirmed the existence of a Food Safety Bill in Parliament, which aims to establish the Food Safety Authority among other provisions. Once the bill becomes law, the authority will enforce regulations governing food safety. 

The current government agencies responsible for this task face challenges due to budget constraints and inadequate personnel across the country. 

The Food Safety Bill, enacted in 2013, underwent a review by a ministerial task force composed of the Ministries of Health and Agriculture in 2018, with a focus on addressing the responsibilities of food business operators in ensuring food safety through training and capacity building.

The current food safety laws in Kenya primarily focus on food exports, but the Food Safety Bill seeks to provide comprehensive protection for domestic food as well. It aims to define the roles and responsibilities of county governments and other competent authorities in enhancing food safety standards.

Aflatoxin contamination

Aflatoxin is a potent toxin produced by certain strains of fungi commonly found in crops such as maize, peanuts, and tree nuts. It poses severe health risks, including liver damage and an increased risk of liver cancer.

Inadequate drying and storage of maize can lead to fungal contamination and the subsequent production of aflatoxin.

In efforts to combat aflatoxin contamination and promote food safety, the Kenyan government has been working with various partners and organizations. 

For instance, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Kenya launched the Feed the Future Innovation Engine Program. This program aims to identify and support innovative solutions to agricultural challenges, including those related to aflatoxin control and reduction.

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