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Opinion | Nov 17, 2017

Food-borne illness kill 230,000 people annually: protect yourself and your family

Food Safety First!
Food Safety First!

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), millions of people worldwide become ill and thousands die from PREVENTABLE food-borne illness annually.

A 2015 WHO report also indicates that diarrhoeal diseases caused 550 million people to fall ill and 230,000 deaths annually; African and South-East Asia Regions had the highest incidence and death rates, including children under the age of 5 years.

It has also been shown that children who survived some of the more serious food-borne illness may suffer from delayed physical and mental development, impacting permanently on their quality of life.


Few days ago, 30th October, 2017, over 50 students of the Ghana Senior High School in Koforidua were rushed for treatment at the St. Joseph’s Hospital, following a food poisoning incident.

Sadly, four people died in Alavanyo in the Volta Region from a suspected food poisoning event, after consuming a fish which looked like a puffer fish.

Three years ago, about 15 students of the North Ridge SHS, Eastern Region, suffered from a severe suspected food poisoning.

On 29th May, 2007, children from 3 different schools developed food-borne illness after they had eaten food prepared for them under the School Feeding Programme the previous day.

Unfortunately, several other cases which occur in the country on regular basis, at homes and workplaces, are not reported, making it difficult for the authorities to institute adequate preventive and/or control measures.

The causes include consuming food/water contaminated with harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, fungus, viruses, and parasites.

Food-borne illness may also develop from harmful chemical substances, such as toxins produced by microorganisms; and agro-chemicals and heavy metals in food.

Poisonous food crops, food allergens, metal shavings from cans, and broken glasses can also lead to food-borne complications.

Though most people recover from a food-borne illness within a short period, some individuals, especially children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems (such as individuals with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancer) develop chronic, severe, and life-threatening health problems.


Food-borne illness can be confused with other illnesses that have similar symptoms. Nonetheless, these symptoms are common: vomiting, diarrhea, stomach and abdominal pain, and nausea. Dehydration with excessive fluid loss from the body may develop, leading to thirst, dizziness, or fainting.

Upon noticing these symptoms, one is advised to contact his/her healthcare provider immediately, especially among children, aged and people with compromised immune systems.

Although authorised institutions and experts in the country are constantly enforcing food safety strategies, laws and policies to protect the populace, consumers are strongly advised to reinforce these efforts by KNOWING and PRACTICING food safety measures at all times.

Preventive measures recommended by WHO include keeping food clean, separating raw and cooked foods, keeping/storing food at safe temperatures, and using safe water and raw materials.

Most food-borne illness can be prevented by observing strict hygienic measures in buying, preparing, storing and serving food.

Recommended food safety tips include:
BUYING right!

  • Look out for counterfeit food products; and report such suspected products to the authorities.
  • Do not buy foodstuffs that are unreasonably bruised or damaged.
  • Do not buy food in damaged packages or cans.
  • Look for expiration dates on food packages. Do not buy outdated foods or foods with no expiry date; again, report such findings to the authorities.
  • At the market, buy refrigerated or frozen food after you have purchased the non-perishables.
  • At the market, pack fresh fruits and vegetables separately from raw meat and poultry to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Bags/basket for raw meat, fish, or poultry should not be used for ready-to-eat products like fruits. Wash such bags and baskets regularly.

STORING right!

  • Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables in a clean refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible or heat them sufficiently.
  • Do not over-stuff your refrigerator.
  • In your refrigerator, store raw meats, fish, and poultry below ready-to-eat and cooked food to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Keep a clean and hygienic kitchen. Wash aprons and napkins regularly. Store sponge in a place where it can dry after use.


  • When preparing any fresh produce, begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap under running-water, especially after visiting the lavatory.
    Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not replacement for hand-washing; they are not effective if the hands are dirty, and they do not eliminate all types of microorganisms.
  • Wash cutting boards, utensils and countertops with soap and warm water between preparing raw meat, poultry, and seafoods (fish or shrimp).
  • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Otherwise, wash cutting boards with warm soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Wash all fresh vegetables/fruits thoroughly under running water before preparing and/or eating, including produce grown at home. Even if you do not plan to eat the skin, it is still important to wash produce first so dirt and germs are not transferred from the surface when peeling or cutting the produce.
  • Washing certain fruits or vegetables with dish soaps or detergent is not highly recommended because they can get trapped or absorbed by pores on the foodstuffs, becoming difficult to be rinsed off. Consuming such foodstuffs may come with adverse health effects.
  • Cook foods thoroughly, especially meat and poultry products, for the appropriate length of time, and appropriate temperature to kill/deactivate germs.
  • Use safe water and safe raw materials to prepare food.
  • To guarantee safety, discard moldy and rotten foodstuffs, to avoid consuming toxin-contaminated food.

By KNOWING, changing our ATTITUDES and PRACTICING food safety preventive measures, we can evade food-borne illness, thereby protecting ourselves and families.

Food Safety FirstFood Safety First

Food poisoning at GhannasFood poisoning at Ghannas

Food-borne illness victimFood-borne illness victim

Most vulnerable peopleMost vulnerable people

Paa Kwesi Coleman
Paa Kwesi Coleman, © 2017

Microbiologist, Plant Pathologist, Food Safety Systems &
Environmental Scientist

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