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Nigeria approves advisory on safe food practices during COVID-19

Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Honourable Minister for Health

*It’s a means of designing measures to guide food establishments, foodstuff retail markets, says Health Minister

*Consumers required to wash fruits, vegetables with potable water, and ensure good personal, respiratory hygiene

Emmanuel Akosile | ConsumerConnect

The Federal Government has approved a fresh Advisory for Food Businesses which outlines safe food practices during the distressing COVID-19 pandemic towards ensuring public safety.

Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Honourable Minister for Health, recently gave the approval to the document that specifies the new advisory at the Ministry’s headquarters in Abuja, FCT.

The purpose of the advisory, according to Dr. Ehanire, is to bring up possible measures to guide what food establishments and food retail markets have to put in place to ensure the integrity of the food supply chain across the country.

The Ministry agreed with the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food and food packaging.

Yet, it noted that because SARS COV-2 virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets that are too heavy to remain in air, nonetheless, they may land on openly displayed foods at open markets (neighborhood open markets) to go on to affect persons who may not take much care before consuming such foods.

Utako Ultramodern Market in Abuja, FCT   Photo: Bloomberg

Dr. Ehanire said that openly displayed foods at open markets (neighborhood open markets), therefore, are a source of concern for most people even though there is currently no evidence of transmission of SARS COV-2 virus associated with food in open markets.

The Minister has advised strongly that consumers are required to wash fruits and vegetables with potable water and ensure good personal and respiratory hygiene around open food items.

He said that to ensure food hygiene and prevent COVID-19 in food businesses, all well-established food businesses are expected to have some form of Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) in place, and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) to manage food safety hazards and risks in the country.

According to him, the provision from the FSMS laid down the foundation for ensuring safe foods at each stage of the food processing, manufacture and marketing chain.

The idea is the prevention of food contamination, he disclosed.

The ‘Advisory for Food Businesses on Safe Food Practices during COVID-19 Pandemic’ states the imperative for all food business operators to ensure that there are adequate measures in place to protect workers from contracting COVID-19 as well as strengthen food hygiene and sanitation, generally as well as embracing safe food handling practice.

The imperatives for the food business operators, retail stores and open markets to provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs); strengthen  its personal hygiene procedures; make available NAFDAC registered hand sanitizer for consumers on their way in and out of the food premises; introduce and enforce physical distancing measures in the food establishments among others.

The Advisory as well directs safe transport of food and food business environment.  “Delivery staff should not leave the vehicle during delivery, where possible, and should observe all the precautionary measures provided in the advisory document,” it stated.

The new advisory stated that staff or food handlers who are unwell should, under no condition be on food business premises.

This is because when an infected person handles food, it is possible to introduce virus to the work surfaces such as counter tops, cash register, etc.

“However, if a staff is feeling unwell or showing symptoms of COVID-19, food managers should find a well-ventilated room or area for staff, if possible, the managers should immediately contact Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), through its toll free number 080097000010 or contact the respective State COVID-19 emergency numbers while they wait for proper advice,” the document stated.

Meanwhile, the new advisory stated that the food manufacturers and retail markets are to liaise with relevant food regulatory agencies such as National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) for advice to ensure that food produced, marketed and sold are safe and wholesome for human consumption.

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