WORLD – The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on authorities in member states to strengthen their regulatory basis to improve hygiene and sanitation standards in traditional markets.

This is in a bid to reduce the risks of transmission and spread of zoonotic, foodborne, and emerging infectious diseases.

WHO has proposed five actions to mitigate the risks to public health in traditional food markets including to keep clean; avoid contamination; keep food products safe; reduce contact with animals; and stay safe and protect yourself. 

They are based on the five keys for safer food which are to keep clean; separate raw and cooked food; cook thoroughly; keep food at safe temperatures; and use safe water and raw materials.

Although they vary from nation to nation, traditional food markets, including wet and informal marketplaces, are widespread in the Asia Pacific.

Millions of individuals in urban and rural areas rely on these markets as their primary source of income. They also play a significant economic, cultural, and social role.

Fruits, vegetables, dairy goods, spices, fresh meat, fish, and other seafood are some of the items sold in traditional food markets.

However, if they are not adequately managed, they can become dangerous settings that pose significant health hazards.

According to WHO, the proximity of foods with animal and plant origins, inadequate hygienic standards, and the mixing of humans and animals might facilitate the spread of diseases and serve as entry routes for contaminants.

Maintaining food safety in the supply chain is hampered by issues with market infrastructure, limited access to and availability of basic sanitary services, and insufficient cleaning. Temperature management, cross-contamination, and food handling are additional concerns.

Enforcing good standards is frequently difficult due to inadequate training of food inspectors, as well as lax or nonexistent inspection processes and traceability systems, particularly for meat products. Due to the severe rains, several traditional marketplaces are also in danger of flooding.

Implementing the five keys for safer food

To this end, for the benefit of market managers, the booklet offers instructions on how to put the five keys for safer food markets into practice.

The WHO recommended closing the market at least once every two weeks to complete thorough cleaning and disinfection of all spaces, tools, and utensils in order to lower the level of contaminants in the marketplace. Waste disposal must also be taken into consideration.

Having a zoning system with distinct zones for vendors selling raw food like meat, fish, and poultry from vegetables, dry food, and ready-to-eat items is an ideal way of avoiding contamination as suggested by the action plan. 

The third category suggests only using products from dependable suppliers that are still within their shelf life and that have intact labels and clear packaging for processed foods. Keep chemicals away from food when storing them.

Programs for pest control, animal welfare, and health are all included in the fourth key. The final subject examines ways to stop diseases from spreading from person to person. 

The study was supported by WHO regional offices in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific. At a conference on risk reduction at traditional food markets held in Manila, Philippines, in September 2021, feedback from attendees was gathered.

In complementary activities, from June 13 to June 15, a WHO group on traditional food markets will convene digitally. Experts will make an effort to reach a consensus on the work plan’s definition, scope, and critical questions for creating guidelines to alter these marketplaces.

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