ABUJA, Nigeria, June 29, 2020/ — With a view to ensuring public safety, the Federal Government has approved a new Advisory for Food Businesses which spells out safe food practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Honourable Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire gave the approval to the document which spells out the new advisory at the Ministry’s headquarters in Abuja on 5th June, 2020. He said the purpose of the advisory is to bring up possible measures to guide what food establishments and food retail markets have to put in place to ensure the integrity of the food supply chain across the country.
Dr. Ehanire who agreed with the World Health Organization (WHO) that it is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food and food packaging however said that because SARS COV-2 virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets that are too heavy to remain in air, they may however land on openly displayed foods at open markets (neighborhood open markets) to go on to affect persons who may not take much care before consuming such foods.
Openly displayed foods at open markets (neighborhood open markets) therefore, the Honourable Minister of Health stated are a source of concern for most people even though there is currently no evidence of transmission of SARS COV-2 virus associated with food in open markets.
The Health Minister therefore advised strongly that consumers are required to wash fruits and vegetables with potable water and ensure good personal and respiratory hygiene around open food items.
Dr. Ehanire said that to ensure food hygiene and prevent COVID-19 in food businesses, all well-established food businesses are expected to have some form of Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) in place, and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) to manage food safety hazards and risks. The provision from these FSMSs laid down the foundation for ensuring safe foods at each stage of the food processing, manufacture and marketing chain. The idea, he said is the prevention of food contamination.
The newly approved ‘Advisory for Food Businesses on Safe Food Practices during COVID-19 Pandemic’ states the imperative for all food business operators to ensure that there are adequate measures in place to protect workers from contracting COVID-19 as well as strengthen food hygiene and sanitation, generally as well as embracing safe food handling practice.
The new advisory document further states the imperatives for the food business operators, retail stores and open markets to provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs); strengthen its personal hygiene procedures; make available NAFDAC registered hand sanitizer for consumers on their way in and out of the food premises; introduce and enforce physical distancing measures in the food establishments amongst others.
The Advisory for Food Businesses for Safe Food Practices during Covid-19 Pandemic also directs safe transport of food and food business environment. “Delivery staff should not leave the vehicle during delivery, where possible, and should observe all the precautionary measures provided in the advisory document.”
More so, in the food business environment, the new advisory stated that staff or food handlers who are unwell should, under no condition be at a food business premises. This is because when an infected person handles food, it is possible to introduce virus to the work surfaces such as counter tops, cash register, etc. “However, if a staff is feeling unwell or showing symptoms of COVID-19, food managers should find a well-ventilated room or area for staff, if possible, the managers should immediately contact Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), through its toll free number 080097000010 or contact the respective State COVID-19 emergency numbers while they wait for proper advice, the document stated.
The new advisory also stated that the food manufacturers and retail markets are to liaise with relevant food regulatory agencies such as National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), and Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) for advice to ensure that food produced, marketed and sold are safe and wholesome for consumption.