Food Coalition

Antimicrobial resistance and food safety in Africa

The disruptions created by the COVID-19 crisis have re-emphasized many of the fragilities in food systems including the need to buttress the business case for food safety as a driver of high-quality domestically produced nutritious food brands, capable of competing with imported packaged food.  The impact of this crisis on the competent authorities and food business operators (in formal and informal parts of the value chain, SME or major private sector players) to maintain guarantee of the safety of food is huge. In Africa, the impact of physical distancing is even higher considering the importance of “the informal actors in value chains” and market in the trade and distribution of food products. Challenges include accessing safe, nutritious food at affordable prices when movement is restricted or markets close and the vulnerability (both in terms of health and income) of entrepreneurs and employees engaged throughout the food system. 

The pandemic has increased focus on many contemporary issues of growing importance such as zoonotic diseases, climate change, food fraud, and the digitalization of food systems each having potentially significant implications for the safety of food.  Equally, the importance of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has drawn greater attention to significance of the extensive and often unnecessary use of antimicrobials in human and animals. Currently, according experts, 10 million people around the world are at risk of being victim of AMR and an estimated 700,000 people die each year from infections caused by microbial agents resistant to all antibiotics.

Another potential impact of COVID-19 crisis on food safety is the potential increase of food fraud. Because of the lockdown, the capacity of competent authorities to undertake appropriate inspection activities has been reduced leaving room for malicious food business operators (FBOs) to undertake deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product, for economic gain. Shortages in the supply of products for maintenance and cleaning of equipment and spare parts for machines can have an influence on the adherence by food processors to respect of critical hygiene and food quality rules.

The COVID-19 caused disruptions in food systems also create opportunities for driving their transformation. The crisis has also shown how quickly many parts of the food system especially SME and women and youth led enterprises, have been able to respond. Food business operators, competent authorities, and many enterprises have had to deviate from business-as-usual approaches, using alternative approaches such as creating new and more localized markets and producer organizations have found ways (some through digitalization and innovation) to respond to the new demands, reviewing staff occupational health and safety practices, and prioritization of control activities.

While working to provide rapid response to the crisis, there is a need for the development of longer-term plans including establishment of emergency response and continuity plans in the member countries to ensure the integrity of the food systems and have appropriate approach toward addressing AMR and food safety issues.  These long-term solutions will be supported by food system transformation plans based on new technologies and innovation such as automated and digitalized production. The existing gender gap in innovations and digitalization are critical issues that long-term plans need to take into account.

Although there are no known human cases of COVID-19 that can be linked to foods of any kind including livestock, fish, wildlife, pulses, grains, fruits and vegetables, this pandemic is having a direct effect on food safety risk communication strategies, how to address misconceptions or misinformation, and provide credible sources of information backed by evidence and data.

The food industry normally has Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles in place to manage food safety risks and prevent food contamination. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the current control measures (hand washing and sanitation of food contact surfaces) may need to be revised and updated, based on lessons learned from the present pandemic.

Priority Areas of work: Food Systems Transformation
SDG: 2. Zero Hunger, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 15. Life on Land
Level: Regional
Region: Africa
Country: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Sudan, Togo
Budget: USD 10 million

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