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Food Safety- A Major Issue For The Region

14th December, 2011

A regional training to address issues concerning food safety in the Pacific started on 12 December, 2011 at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. The week-long training aims to equip participants with the basic understanding, application and control of food safety issues in food services, catering and manufacturing industries. The training is jointly facilitated by the Biological Society of the South Pacific (BSSP) and USP’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In her opening remarks, Dr Anjeela Jokhan, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment (FSTE), said, “having safe food is the right of the consumers therefore catering and food processing industries are to ensure safe foods are produced irrespective of the sources and the types of processing carried out.” She highlighted that although the Pacific has been “blessed” with abundance of natural food resources mainly through agriculture and fisheries, these resources have not been fully utilised for economic growth. This, she attributed to poor handling practices, high food spoilage rate because of humid and warm climate and weak national and regional food control and monitoring systems.

While strict implementation and monitoring of food safety programmes are necessary for food trade in today’s global food markets, Dr Jokhan explained that restrictions of food exports for Pacific Island Countries (PICs) arise when strict food and quality regulatory requirements of developed countries are not met. “Compliance with international food safety and quality standards is necessary not only to gain market access for export commodities, but also to supply the lucrative tourism industry within PICs, as well as for the well-being of the local population,” she added.

It is anticipated that the training will help develop a food safety system in the Pacific. Controlling the safety of imported food is another challenge for the small island states in the Pacific. “Consumers are often exposed to food that is sold after its specified use-by date and/or has undergone temperature abuse before or during distribution to the Pacific,” she elaborated.
Dr Jokhan believes that this can be addressed if PICs work more closely with each other to consider a regional approach to setting Food Safety Standards based on the guidance of Codex and Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

Dr Jokhan said that USP is well placed to assist the region to fully participate in food safety training. She also told participants that the University hopes to work more closely with industries in this effort.

She pointed out that the University is revising its Food Science programme to better meet the capacity building needs of the region.

During the training, participants will be given lecture presentations by food safety specialists, participate in laboratory activities and field trips to further enhance their knowledge in food safety. In his presentation, Mr Peter Hoejskov from WHO, introduced participants to the various concepts in food safety. Food safety is the assurance that food will not cause harm to the consumer when it is prepared or eaten according to its intended use, participants were told.

Mr Hoejskov said that unsafe food causes food-borne illnesses. This happens when diseases usually either infectious or toxic in nature, caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food. He added that every person is at risk of food-borne diseases and there are long-term and short-term health consequences of unsafe food consumption.

He outlined the economic implications of food safety incidents which can lead to loss of market opportunities both internationally and domestically.

While national health authorities play an important role in strengthening national food control systems, Mr Hoejskov emphasised that food safety is a shared responsibility among all stakeholders along the food chain.

The training ends on 16 December.

ENDS

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