Many times we eat various meals without paying attention to what the meal is made from. Zainab Akanji is a food safety expert who is out to ensure that meal you are eating is safe for you. Aside being a food safety expert, she is also a trainer, health consultant and activist fondly called ‘Zainy The Food Babe’ by her numerous fans.
She is relentless, fighting against the dangers of processed foods in Nigeria and also known for calling out food corporations for unnecessary artificial additives in their foods. She spent years researching food safety, food politics, nutrition, and diets. Zainab practiced in the UK for 3 years, came back to Nigeria and has been on this campaign for 5 years, so for 8 years she has passionately ensured that companies get it right in this light.
Food safety is all about protecting the consumer’s health but the question is, has the food safety policy of the federal ministry of health been effective? Zainab responds “I can’t say yes or no for now because I believe it is still going to be amended according to what I read, they are still awaiting comments from stake holders…I remain optimistic”.
Giving her advice on food safety, she says “A lot of people don’t know what food safety is. Many don’t even know that food can cause harm to their lives, life threatening illness can come from unsafe meals, so then tell me if you don’t know this how then are you suppose to make food safe? The enforcement authorities in Nigeria are also not helping the matter. I whenever they find any contravention from let’s say food businesses, it is always swept under the rug. Most of the food safety laws are accumulating dust, there is need for change”
Zainab’s views on how Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) has been able to work on the agricultural sector towards realizing the objective of food safety is indeed interesting. Hear her “HACCP manages food safety by identifying significant and potential hazard (biological, physical and chemical) at every step (‘farm to fork’) of food preparation/processes/manufacturing. Afterwards, it assesses which of the hazards will pose a health risk to the consumer and then put in place control measures that is critical to the safety of the food and consumer. This is a proven system that helps food business operators ensure proper food safety measures are in place. In other words, HACCP is designed to help food organisations minimize health risks (likelihood of harm) from food hazards.
Zainab has her view on food preservation and how to go about it. In her words, “Let me start by saying one of the benefits of HACCP is that it reduces waste. For example, a retail food business operator mentioned that, on the average, half of a bag of tomatoes purchased from the local market is rotten. This phenomenon heightens the cost of production as more bags have to be bought to get the desired quantity. So we can agree that not having a proper implementation of HACCP system in place (during farming, distribution, storage etc.) can make food become more expensive? Also, following HACCP rules helps in storing and handling food properly, thus reducing wastage.
Zainab has been of tremendous support in ensuring the food we eat are produced under the safest conditions and she does this by providing training to companies, food science and technology students or those in related field who want to further and also seeks career development. “It is a shame, when sometimes I meet some students who tell me they had to travel to Ghana to get HACCP certification because they were not aware of anyone in Nigeria that really understood what it is all about. When I met them, they were surprised I knew about it and I really can’t blame them Kemi, I am sorry to say but you know Nigeria is always the last to do things right.” She tells me.
Certainly, Zainab has faced challenges in the course of promoting food safety and she says “My main challenge is that people don’t understand food safety well enough and even if they do, food safety laws are not properly enforced, people do whatever they like, thus providing unsafe food for human consumption.”
Not one daunted by challenges, Zainab has developed a food safety management system pack that is based on HACCP principles and she says the training pack will help food handlers follow rules and help organisations/employers, as well as supervisors train their staff to produce safe food. “It focuses on the ‘Four C’s’, which are the control measures that guarantees food safety. The ‘Four C’s’ are Cleaning, Cross-contamination, Chilling and Cooking. This training pack also stresses the importance of training and supervising of food handlers on how to implement the ‘Four C’s’. It simplifies the application of implementing the HACCP system so that food business owners and managers do not need to stress themselves in trying to develop a new system. The HACCP system has already been developed based on thorough scientific research, sound operational experience and legal requirements. All you need is to follow through the rules”
“The training pack is developed by First HACCP System Limited for all types of catering establishment like canteens, restaurants, eateries, hotels, schools, colleges, hospitals, takeaways, mobile catering van, home caterers, church and community halls, and other places where food is being prepared for members of the public.
This training pack will help show food businesses what they need to do to produce safe food, what to do if food safety has been compromised at any point of food preparation and how to manage or stop it from happening again.”
Speaking on the benefits of implementing HACCP, Zainab says “This pack helps catering outlets train their staff/food handler’s on how to handle food safety. Most of the clients call me and say all the enforcement authorities often call to their premises to ask for HACCP and most them don’t even know or have never heard of the system before even venturing into the food business and it often sounds awkward to them even if they have someone to explain what it means, so what First HACCP System Limited has done is to bridge the gap by providing them with a simple, easy to read and understand booklet that helps that implement HACCP principles.”
“Presently, the system has only been developed for catering outlets, because with my experience, I realise most people eat out and there has been a lot of food poisoning outbreak attributed to this industry, and many are not even reported or recorded. There should be a system in place where people can know where to eat by having companies providing safe food on the net and also a sticker on their door saying this outlets is producing safe food having been satisfied with the way they handle food by enforcement authorities.’’
Zainab’s view is that the government has a lot to do “The National Policy on Food Safety aims to integrate and harmonize all existing laws, standards and codes that regulate food safety practices in Nigeria, redefine and coordinate existing food control infrastructures at various levels of government and eliminate areas of overlap and conflict. If the government ensures the implementation of the National Policy on Food Safety (NPFS), it would minimize the risk of outbreak of diseases arising from poor safety practices and reduce the prevalence of food-borne and related diseases. The principles and practice of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system should be applied during the preparation, production, handling, storage, processing/preservation, transportation and distribution of foods.