WE are what we eat –a cliché, yes, but one which certainly rings true in the light of a recent survey of khebab vendors across the capital. Even establishments in the more expensive areas of town – Osu and Adabraka – are serving food which fails to meet with basic hygiene standards, The Statesman reports today. It is not uncommon for meat to be stored overnight and reheated the next day; it is standard practice to leave half-cooked khebabs to fester in the sun for hours before they are finished off and served, bacteria-ridden, to unsuspecting customers.
And the problem does not end with khebab food: people are daily putting their health or even lives at risk through their eating habits, consuming unhygienic and substandard fast food and suffering regular illness as a result.
Yet we continue to accept this second-rate fodder, when we need to stand up and demand a higher quality of food, stricter regulations and more Government control over the catering industry – including the reigning in of informal sector vendors to comply with standards which should be universal. We need to exercise more discretion when it comes to our food choices ourselves, we need to stop accepting the unacceptable.
Fast food, road-side vending may provide hundreds of thousands of jobs around the country. The Statesman does not advocate that these people should be denied their livelihoods by a complete clamp-down on their informal enterprises – but it does advocate a higher premium on health than this current lackadaisical attitude, and a more rigid body of rules and enforcements to protect against the gross negligence of hygiene considerations revealed by recent research. Our society continues to prance on a platform of mediocrity, but when such vital questions as the health of its people are at risk, such a laissez-faire approach amounts not to liberality, but irresponsibility.
The selling of food in Ghana is so liberal as to be ridiculous. Anybody with a stove, a table and a metre or so of space can set up a stall – without any recourse to health and safety legislation which, for all intents and purposes, might as well not exist. Certainly, the food vendors consulted by The Statesman seemed little concerned or even aware of any body of rules governing the conduct of their cooking.
Yet a nation is only as healthy as its people, and radical and drastic measures now need to be taken to safeguard the most vital resource that our nation has. A cholera outbreak in London in 1854 was traced to a single water pump in Broad Street – the link between the disease and contaminated water was indisputably proved, and led to a series of revolutionary Public Health Acts in the country. The Government of Ghana needs to take similar action – the relation between enforcement of health regulations and food poisoning cases is incontrovertible, and yet the Ghana Standards Board and the Food and Drugs Boards are ineffectual still – overstretched and under-funded, with a task too tall to tackle.
Ghana needs a more comprehensive national strategy to deal with the problem, but a strategy that is localised and implemented on a district, municipal, sub-metro and metro level if it is to be effective. A two-pronged approach of education and enforcement is vital –and needs to be implemented without delay. The truth is, not all of us can endure vegetarianism.