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02.11.2005 Health

Study points to faecal contamination in food

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Accra, Nov. 2, GNA - A study by the International Water Management Institutes in 2002 looking at the levels of contamination of food by faecal micro-organisms in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale found that 180 samples of cabbage, lettuce and spring onions bought from market and special vegetable stands contained at least 4,000 faecal coliforms. Another study conducted by the Food Research Institute on the state of microbiological contamination of support infrastructure in kitchens and dining hall of selected food service establishments in the Greater Accra metropolis reveals high counts of micro-organism.

Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa, Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) told a press conference in Accra to begin activities marking the celebration of the GHS month, this November, under the theme, Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Living.

He said the study among chop bar operatives in particular showed that 20 per cent of the cooks had fungal hand and nail infection, while eight to 11 per cent had intestinal worm infestation, 10 per cent were also diagnosed as carriers of typhoid.

"Food handlers with infections and infes tations may spread them through food as a result of poor hygienic practices such as failure to wash hands with soap after defecation followed by food handling, coughing or sneezing in food preparation areas, nose picking, winnowing of peeled groundnuts by blowing," he said.

Prof. Akosa said presence of large numbers of coliforms in processed food was an indicator of faecal contamination after processing or coking, saying that some strains may cause food poisoning via production of enterotoxins.

He stressed that the presence of such bacteria in food was therefore a public health hazard.

Prof Akosa noted that pesticide contamination of food may occur due to inappropriate pesticide use, adding that the major pattern of misuse relate to non-observance of re-entry intervals before harvesting of sprayed crops and use of highly toxic pesticides on food. Several reports have indicated that farmers in tomato growing areas spray their tomatoes on the day of purchase presumably to ensure that they did not get attacked by pest before harvest.

He noted that growing food in the vicinity of crops for which pesticides were used was dangerous for the farmer and also posed a potential risk.

Prof. Akosa said there was a high risk of death from the use of insecticides in vegetable production and food storage. Contamination of nuts and grains by moulds, one type of which is aflatoxin, he said constituted another source of chemical contamination of food.

Aflatoxin occurs mostly under poor storage conditions characterized by high humidity and high temperatures, contamination may also occur pre-harvest and during transportation. It may be passed on from animals feeding on contaminated feed to humans. The Ghana Health Service boss cautioned that aflatoxin were not destroyed by heat and hence cooking does not render the food harmless, adding "it is a major public health risk for liver cancer." He said measures to address the problem therefore must be the combined effort of all sectors as well as changes in attitudes and practises of individuals.

Interventions, he said, should occur from farm to table, saying they should impact on inputs, farm processes, handling in the market and at the level of processing industry and the household. "We all shop from the same market so no one is exempt from risks posed by poor food safety practises. It is important that each one of us especially those with responsibility of ensuring food safety contributes our quota to finding solutions to the problem of food safety practises," Prof. Akosa said.

"Food safety is more important than drugs in ensuring good and quality health and therefore greater attention must be given to all myriad of problems that face the food industry from farm to table." 2 Nov. 05

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