Better food safety solutions in Africa: Understanding the complex social, economic and policy perspectives

Global food safety systems are rapidly changing in response to urbanization and population growth, climate change, trade expansion and social and economic changes; Africa is no exception. The continent is the second in the world after Asia in terms of area and population. The rapidly evolving food systems in Africa pose important food safety challenges. Food processing approaches, traditionally practiced by African societies can be used to effectively to reduce food safety risks (e.g., fermentation when done at small-scale). However, mass production and long-distance transport of foods, which are now common practice, bring new food safety challenges. Food safety along the production to consumption continuum is characterized in the majority of the cases by the involvement of informal actors with sub-optimal food handling practices, creating major impacts on public health and the economy. Generally, the current complexity of food systems makes solutions not always straight forward. Globally, unsafe food causes an estimated 600 million illnesses, and 420,000 deaths and Africa disproportionately bears the highest burden of foodborne diseases. With few exceptions, the issue of food safety has not been given comparable emphasis on the continent and, when it has, the focus is largely on food commodities destined for international market. This presentation covers the major foodborne hazards (microbiological and chemical) in the African context and describes local and continental examples of food safety initiatives aimed at reducing the burden of foodborne disease and improving public health. Specifically, the application of risk-based and One Health approaches to reduce foodborne diseases will be emphasised. Examples of action research and political decision making around food safety at the continental level will be provided. Coordinated and tailored efforts that take into account the complex nature of global and African food safety systems are clearly needed.