Mortality resulting from the consumption of contaminated food and water in Africa is around 700,000 annually.
The incidence of diarrhoea caused by consumption of contaminated food and water was estimated at up to five episodes per child per year.
Dr. Daniel Kertesz, World Health Organisation (WHO), Country Representative for Ghana, disclosed these, at the opening of the 18th Session of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and WHO of the Codex Coordinating Committee for Africa, on Monday in Accra.
He said the Disability Adjusted Life Years lost to food and water borne diarrhoea in Africa region was 4.1 per 1000 globally as compared to 5.7-7.1 per 1000 in Africa.
Dr. Kertesz noted that the year 2008 saw an unprecedented number of food borne diseases caused by microbes and chemical contaminants including pesticides residues and mycotoxins.
He said these included cholera in many countries, typhoid fever and botulism, pesticide poisoning through beans and vegetables, bromide poisoning; diarrhoea and food poisoning.
Dr. Kertesz said it was worrying that the multi-drug resistant strains of the causative agents of food borne diseases have been reported.
He said some African countries were affected by emergencies associated with melamine contaminated milk, milk products and pork products contaminated with dioxin, produced from pigs slaughtered in Ireland.
Dr. Kertesz attributed this to huge gaps in the laboratory capacity in the countries and noted that WHO regional Committee for Africa would adopt a paper on the establishment of centres of excellence for disease surveillance, public health laboratories and food and drugs regulation.
He said there was a growing tendency to shift from eating home-prepared food to consuming ready-to-eat foods, which he noted, meant that a single error from a food handler could have far reaching consequences.
Dr. Kertesz said " Hygiene of vending operation is a major source of concern in food control", and that the current global food crisis has worsened an already precarious food situation.
He advised consumers to use the scarce food at their disposal safely, effectively and efficiently.
He said against this background, the WHO regional committee for Africa adopted resolution AFR/RC53/R5 in 2003 on the Regional Food Safety Strategy and its accompanying resolution in August 2006 with a guiding principles of a holistic and risked based actions which applied the risk analysis principles.
Mr Edouard Tapsoba, FAO Assistant Director General, said food safety was a priority of FAO, particularly in Africa and details of the agenda on capacity building indicated the importance that FAO and WHO attached to capacity building activities in the area of food safety.
He said these activities covered all the components of the food safety management system with emphasis on technical regulations and legislation, risk-based inspection services for national markets as well as imports and experts of food commodities, training of food control officials laboratory testing and monitoring and surveillance.
Mr Tapsoba said the assistance provided allowed governments to take full responsibility for implementing all measures necessary for ensuring food safety in collaboration with the private sector and civil society.
He said the ultimate goal of these food safety related activities was to contribute to the overall food security for Africa by ensuring that food produced and sold throughout the continent and beyond meet safety and quality requirements consonant with internationally agreed standards, in particular with the applicable Codex Alimentararius standards.
Mr Tapsoba noted that one could never stress enough the fact that the international market had become more demanding in terms of safety and sanitary requirements.
He said progress had been made to improve food control systems to enhance the safety of food commodities sold on both the domestic and international markets.
Mr. Tapsoba said these challenges would require political awareness and commitment at the highest level of government so that these issues could be adequately addressed by, and receive proper support from, higher-level decision makers.
The FAO/WHO Coordination Committee for Africa (CCAFRICA) is one of the six regional coordinating committees for the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), established by FAO and WHO in 1964 to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the international food trade by developing standards and guidelines.
The meeting was to enable participant from the Africa region to exchange recent information on the food control situation as well as emerging issues in the region including trans-boundary food safety problems.