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FAO with local authorities and partners tackling food safety across the Pacific

By Eriko Hibi, FAO Subregional Coordinator for the Pacific Islands

10/10/2017 Apia, Samoa

Growing concerns across other Pacific Island countries about human wellbeing has led to increased attention being paid to improved food safety and nutrition.  Consumers, food vendors, restaurants, universities to governments are all paying more attention to the role they can play in keeping us safe.  With World Food Day (Monday, October 16) just around the corner, I thought I would draw you attention to the role my Organization, FAO has been play to keep you and our brethren across the Pacific safe and healthy.

In Samoa, FAO has been working with Scientific Research Organization of Samoa and the University of Queensland to reduce post-harvest losses and food safety risks in producing and marketing fruit and vegetables. Food safety risk assessments were, for example carried out on leafy green vegetables such as Bok Choy cabbage, lettuce, coriander, basil, rocket, watercress and round cabbages by doing microbiological testing for harmful bacteria such as E.coli, L. monocytogenes and Salmonella at different points from harvesting to consumer purchasing.
 
In the wider Pacific, FAO has contributed to strengthening food safety legislation in countries which have recently established a Food Act including the Solomon Islands, Nauru, Tonga, Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia by contributing technical expertise and supporting the national consultation process for food regulations. These food regulations include registration of food premises for food hygiene certification, designation of official food inspectors, inspection of food businesses, inspection of imported food, labelling requirements on packaged food, expiry dates on food, and systems for handling food recalls and food complaints.
 
National food regulations should be in place for effective operation and where necessary, supported through enforcement activities to ensure that producers and food transporters and marketers comply with food safety regulations. Such measures or regulations make food hygiene responsibilities clear for food business operators.
 
Awareness campaigns coupled with food hygiene workshops can clarify safe food hygienic practices for operators. FAO has conducted training workshops for national food inspectors, such as Environmental Health Officers, for both domestic food business hygiene and for inspection of imported food at sea and air borders.  The Organization has also worked with competent authorities responsible for food safety administration to strengthen inspection systems including the training of inspectors, provision of manuals and tools for inspection, and advise on systems for registration of food premises and monitoring and recording compliance history.
 
Upon request for technical assistance from countries, FAO provides a package of activities to strengthen food safety. In Tonga over the past two years, FAO has partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture to facilitate the establishment of a Food Division, and has provided legal support and facilitated nationwide consultation on the food regulations, provided technical input to the food regulations, and Food Act amendment.
 
Ensuring the safety of street foods
Earlier this year, in the Solomon Islands, FAO support assisted with development of guidelines for street food vendor good hygienic practice, conducting "Train the Trainer" workshops with local authority Honiara City Council Environmental Health Officers, and workshops with street food vendors. In Nauru where street food vendors and caterers are responsible for school food, FAO provided support in good hygienic practices and advice on healthy and nutritious food preparation, meals and menus by conducting workshops and providing material for vendors, community members and school students. FAO is currently developing a program to strengthen street food vendor hygiene in Kiribati.
 
Access to accredited food laboratories with capacity to test food composition, contaminants in food and microbiological safety of food is an area of increased concern in the Pacific. FAO is assisting the National Public Health Laboratory in the Solomon Islands gain international ISO 17025 accreditation for microbiological testing of food and water for pathogens causing foodborne illness.  Supporting national agencies to conduct food safety awareness programmes which reach food business operators, community caterers, home food preparation and consumers are another area where FAO can support capacity development in the region. Food business operators may receive a more technical level of training to address good hygienic practices when this is identified as important by government agencies responsible for food hygiene.
 
Recognising the diversity of food safety systems in the Pacific region and that different national food safety systems are at different levels of development means “a country specific approach” to address food safety, in other words there is no “one-size fits all” solution.
 
The new FAO programme for Pacific Island countries over the next five years (2018-2022), following extensive consultation with the fourteen countries in the Pacific region, has identified healthy consumption of safe and nutritious food is a priority area for many governments. This new five year period is an opportunity for governments to work in partnership with FAO to develop and implement a custom made program to progress through the stages to achieve a robust food control system by strengthening identified priority components of the national food safety system.

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