No nation can claim to be food secure if the food is not fit for consumption. If it is not safe, it is not food. This simple but profound statement highlights the huge role food safety plays in achieving food security.
Most people think that food safety and management systems only apply to food manufacturers. In fact, the role of food safety is cross-cutting and should be adopted by all from farm to fork.
Just as industrial food manufacturers owe consumers safe food products, so do small-scale farmers, traders and those linked to them. They owe themselves and the consumers safe food.
Commercial food manufacturing entities invest substantially in maintaining food safety standards not merely to facilitate trade but also to minimise food safety risks. They strive to avoid public health risks, such as the listeria outbreak in South Africa. The health risks posed by food-borne illnesses are no different from health risks caused by small-scale farmers who use unsafe feed for fish in their ponds as well as those who sell maize and groundnuts with high aflatoxin levels.
Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in the country struggling with cholera outbreaks due to unsanitary food.
Both acute and chronic food-borne illnesses should help us reflect on the state of the food we consume.
Food supply in our country mainly hinges on smallholder crop production and animal husbandry. Currently, many food security interventions aim at increasing smallholder production.
However, there is a rising demand for farmers to meet the demands of a booming population. To achieve this, stakeholders must not only aim for food sufficiency but also food safety.
There has recently been a move to diversify food sources beyond maize to create balanced diets. Food sources range from maize, the country’s staple food, to potatoes, cassava and proteins such as fish, livestock and poultry.
Aflatoxin is one of the toxic substances that make food unfit for human consumption due to poor post-harvest handling practices.
Aflatoxin occurrence can be reduced by adopting risk analysis frameworks found in food safety management systems and risk-based approaches that ensure safety of food in manufacturing industries.
Such practices could be tailored to smallholder farmers to complement good agricultural practices.
In addition, the basic food hygiene is a prerequisite for food safety. It reduces food contamination that occurs due to unsanitary practices.
The essence of standardised systems as a tool for management of food safety or food quality is that they engrain in its users a new way of approaching and solving risks.
Employing standards in management of any risk associated with food gives birth to a new mindset and culture which guarantees continued improvement.
There is an undeniable nexus between food security and food safety.
However, as is the case with most key development issues in our country, food safety faces a myriad of challenges.
Based on a July 2018 situation analysis report on the food safety sector in Malawi, food safety and food security, nutrition, health and other relevant sectors are not integrated at national level.
They blame this situation on incomplete regulatory frameworks, limited awareness, failure to comply with standards and lack of infrastructure. All this poses a significant threat to public health.
But without food safety, food insecurity will persist in the country.
Hopefully, public health costs will compel the nation to address these challenges for the benefit of consumers.