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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Food safety in The Gambia

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With Aisha Jallow

Some time ago I read an interesting article in The Standard Newspaper about food safety and hygiene.

According to the Food Safety and Quality Authority (FSQA), a total of 17 businesses were closed last year for failing to meet safety standards while 104 expired food products were confiscated. One large supermarket was named in the article, guilty of selling expired food. It is great that the FSQA dealt with that specific issue, but the problem is larger than that. The word hygiene doesn’t seem to be familiar either we look at supermarkets, food markets or smaller restaurants. It is not enough to pinpoint expired dates on tins of food, we must look at the whole picture.

To be able to deal with matters of hygiene, we need to educate people about the problems with a lack of hygiene. If they understand the consequences of germs spread everywhere, they might keener keep clean. We must consider the constant warm weather as a main source of spreading the germs. Before the raining season, and during that, the weather is very warm and humid. This is a hotbed for bacteria, mold, insects and rats. Rats’ faeces are filled with bacteria that are causing illnesses. It is hard to keep rats and mice out, they only need a hole small enough to squeeze the head inside and the rest of their body will follow.

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If you find faeces from rodents on the shelves of your pantry or store – never remove them with your hand or a dish cloth. Smallest wound on your hand can easily get infected, and a dish cloth is damp so the bacteria will grow inside it. It doesn’t help to rinse the dish cloth; it has to be thrown away. The best thing is to use some kind of paper. Try to get all the droppings on that piece of paper and burn it. Keep the shelves of your pantry as clean as possible. If you can afford it; paint the shelves white. It is easy to paint them, you don’t need any experience.

Buy a cheap can of white paint and a brush. Place the can on the top of some cardboard or an old newspaper. Open the can carefully, stir the paint with a clean stick. Make sure your shelves are clean and dusted. Begin to paint and admire your work when you have finished. If you can’t finish it all in one day; cover the paint brush with a plastic bag so the brush will not dry until the next day.

Why white paint? Because the insects love small and dark crevices where they can nest. When you paint the shelves of your pantry white, the paint will creep into every nook and cranny. The bugs will hate you, but I don’t think that love has been answered anyway. The painted shelves will be easy to keep clean and they look nice and tidy too. Cockroaches love it when you drop food here and there. Allowing kids eating in the sofa is like a dinner invitation for the cockroaches. When you and the family have gone to bed, the dinner party begins for the cockroaches and their buddies. Don’t leave bread crumbles on the table, keep all kind of food stuff covered. We are supposed to be generous, but there is a limit for the generosity. Un-invited dinner guests are not welcome, they cause too much trouble.

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Do you know what the dirtiest thing is at a restaurant? You might say the public toilet, and even if those can be messy there is actually one other thing that is worse. It is the menys! Consider how many hands that are touching the menys every day. These hands have been touching…oh, I don’t want to mention everything, I think you have imagination enough. Most menys are laminated and that makes them easier to clean. Spray them with some hand sanitiser several times every day, and you will avoid at least a small part of the problem. The hands of all staff that are touching your food somehow, must always be clean. The cloths they clean the tables with must also be clean, otherwise the dirt will only be spread from one table to another.

Most shelves in supermarkets are already white, but they must be kept clean all the time. Whenever the staff is not occupied with the customers, there is time to make sure that everything is nice and tidy. Dust the shelves, dust all the items placed on the shelves and keep the floor clean. There should never be any random goods on the floor, just because someone didn’t bother to place them on their correct place. It is both a matter of hygiene, but also a safety matter. If something would happen, causing a commotion and people need to leave the premises in a haste – imagine what will happen when a lot of stuff is on the floor! Running a business is demanding, and one matter that is often forgotten is that the business owner has a responsibility towards his customers. If they get injured because of the business owner’s neglect, it can be a matter of the law.

The lack of reliable electricity is affecting businesses as well as households. Fridges, freezers and other machinery gets damaged when the power goes on and off. The electricity is expensive so some people believe they save money by switching off the fridges and freezers for some hours. What they don’t know is that it will become more expensive to switch them on again. It takes hours to get back to the low temperature that is required for keeping the food cold or frozen. The engines in the fridges and freezers go on full speed, hour after hour, to get back to required temperature. Normally that engine goes on for a little while to adjust the temperature and that doesn’t use a lot of electricity. The food stuff in your fridge or freezer gets spoiled while the temperature gets too high. The food becomes moldy or rancid, it leads to diarrhea and even food poisoning. Instead of cutting costs, you will add costs because you have to throw away stale food and buy medication instead.

I have visited supermarkets where food stuff has been stored in warm fridges. What is the use of a fridge when it is warm? The ideal temperature in a freezer should be -18 degrees Celsius for storage of food. For a fridge it is +3-5 degrees Celsius. These are the best temperatures for storing food and making sure that the food items will not get spoiled. In a household you can avoid to open the fridge or the freezer when the power is cut. It is worse in a supermarket because customers need to open the fridges and freezers to get what they want to buy. You can’t smack a customer’s fingers, telling him. “No, no! Don’t open it now! You just have to wait until the power is back!”

NAWEC has many responsibilities. The main responsibilities are not towards the shareholders, it is actually towards the customers. This must come as a surprise for those in charge of NAWEC, but nevertheless it is true. It is not only the light of God that shines indefinitely, let your light do that too to make life easier in The Gambia.

Let your people who fumble in the valleys of darkness to see the light…in the fridge when they open it at night. Amen.

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