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World Food Safety Day 2024: Ensuring a safer future and a better life

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On June 7, 2024, Essau in the North Bank Region of The Gambia was a focal point of national attention as the community commemorated World Food Safety Day. Hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food Safety and Quality Authority (FSQA), the event emphasized the vital importance of food safety in protecting public health.

This year’s theme, “Food Safety – Prepare for the Unexpected,” underscores the challenges posed by unforeseen incidents like power outages affecting food storage or international food contamination alerts. Preparedness is key to saving lives and preventing widespread illness. Simple practices such as cleaning hands and surfaces, separating raw and cooked foods, thorough cooking, maintaining safe temperatures, and using safe water and raw materials were highlighted as essential steps to reduce foodborne risks.

Dr. Mustapha Ceesay, Assistant FAO Representative emphasized the significance of the theme in The Gambia, especially in communities like Essau which hosts the celebrations in his address. “Due to its proximity to significant food border points such as Amdalai, Essau is one of the guardians of food safety in the country. The influx of food from diverse sources underscores the urgency of upholding rigorous food safety standards here and neighbouring communities to protect the health of our people.”

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He further reiterated FAO’s support for ensuring food safety in the country through Codex Alimentarius. “FAO remains a steadfast partner in addressing CODEX issues and elevating food safety standards in collaboration with WHO and FSQA. Through concerted efforts, we have tirelessly worked to fortify regulatory frameworks and enhance capacity, ensuring that Gambia’s  food supply meets the acceptable for standards of safety and quality.”

Momodou Gassama from WHO stressed the necessity of strong supply chains and changing dietary habits to minimize food-related diseases: “Beyond regulatory frameworks, food safety is a matter of life and death. Each year, 600 million people suffer from foodborne illnesses, with the most vulnerable bearing the brunt.”

Malang Fofana, Executive Director of National Nutrition Agency (NaNA), called for a better prepared, more resilient, and built capacities in place to withstand any unexpected food safety challenges, while emphasizing the importance of adhering to established standards and protocols. “Globally, regionally, and nationally, standards, guidelines, protocols, procedures, and regulations are developed to help make food safe and meet the required quality.”

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The Chairman of the Kerewan Area Council, Papa Tunkara, encouraged the populace to strive to ensure food is not just a luxury but a fundamental human right.

The event also brought to light sobering statistics. In The Gambia, 29% of households are food insecure, with over 45% on the borderline. This insecurity drives reliance on cheap, nutrient-poor food, leading to diet-related non-communicable diseases and malnutrition, exacerbated by poverty, environmental degradation, conflict, and climate change.

Mamodou Bah, Director General of FSQA, reaffirming the commitment to food safety, assured the public of his office’s on-going efforts to enhance national food control systems. “FSQA, with the government of The Gambia and her partners, will continue to work harder to ensure the protection of consumer health and safety, and also to facilitate national and international trade.”

World Food Safety Day 2024 is a powerful reminder that we can create a healthier and more resilient future through preparedness, safer food practices, and collaboration. The well-being of our communities depends on it. The event saw inspectors conducting thorough inspections at the Essau Lumo, where they distributed aprons and T-shirts to vendors, raising awareness and promoting good hygiene practices.

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