The government has been advised to enhance its risk analysis framework to ensure that food is produced and stored in a safe environment in the country.
The World Food Programme (WFP), a major partner of Kenya in the effort towards food sufficiency for the past 30 years, has identified food safety as an issue of concern and sought ways to intervene.
In Marsabit County and the entire Northern region of the country which reels under frequent drought spells and famine, aflatoxin contamination has shown to be a food safety threat.
The WFP has funded the setting up of seven Food Safety and Quality (FSQ) mini laboratories across the county at a cost of Sh7 million.
The organization’s Representative and Country Director Ms. Lauren Landis while officiating at the launch of the laboratory for Marsabit Central sub-county at Marsabit Referral Hospital said food safety threats were increasingly becoming more complex which calls for new ways of managing the challenge.
She called on regulatory agencies in the food chain to ensure that stakeholders who include farmers, distributors and retailers sustainably uphold their responsibility in ensuring food stuffs are fit for human consumption.
Landis pointed out the recurrent drought experienced in northern Kenya has over the years exposed the residents to aflatoxin as emergency aid from all quarters flooded the region under poor storage and handling conditions.
She added that residues from pesticides and veterinary drugs as well as environmental pollutants in foodstuffs was a big food safety concern and urged decision makers to devise new ways of dealing with the security and quality challenges.
“New organisms have also continued to evolve and adapt hence causing illness in the food supply chain,” she observed adding that the food contamination problem was difficult because it overlaps three sectors that included public health, agriculture and trade.
Landis called for improved crop production, handling practices and the use of appropriate technologies in order to bring aflatoxin under control.
Noting that small-scale farming of crops like maize, beans and vegetables was catching up with pastoralist communities, the WFP representative advised on awareness creation in food safety which is also a complimentary effort to the government’s agenda on food security and nutrition.
She added that WFP was employing interventions along the food production, transformation and consumption chain aimed at building resilience in communities that are food insecure.
The mini laboratories which are well equipped with blue boxes among other kits have been established in the sub-counties of Loiyangalani, Laisamis, North Horr, Marsabit North, Moyale and Sololo.
The labs to be managed by Public Health Officers (PHOs) are meant to fast-track quality and food safety practices through sampling and testing at the field level as opposed to the previous state where samples had to be taken to Nairobi.
Using the portable blue boxes, PHOs will be able to carry out a wide range of testing parameters as concerns the safety and quality of food in line with international standards at the grassroots.
Marsabit Central Sub-County Public Health Officer Mr. Gobba Doso revealed that the WFP has also sponsored the training of 25 PHOs in food analysis and testing.
He added that the environmental stresses such as water, high temperature stress and insect damage were major determining factors in mold infestation and toxin production.
Animals that consume feeds contaminated with aflatoxins, ingestion of aflatoxins carried over from feed into milk and milk products, animal tissues, eggs and poultry acute and or chronic exposure to aflatoxins could create health complications to humans.
Doso who is also the county food safety and quality control coordinator said using the portable kits, the trained personnel were able to detect moisture content and identify the presence of mycotoxins such as aflatoxin and fumonisin that are harmful to health when eaten by people or even livestock
He said that it was mandatory for dealers in cereals to acquire a public health certificate for their commodities as the county government instituted a measure to prevent contamination on the value chain.
“We are also engaged in creating awareness on good drying, storage and handling to our farmers who are gradually diversifying their economic activities in order to prevent post-harvest contamination,” said Doso.
By Sebastian Miriti