World Health Organisation Country Representative, Dr Daniel Kertesz on Monday said the mortality from consumption of contaminated food and water is around 700,000 annually for all age groups in Africa.
The incidence of diarrhoea caused by consumption of contaminated food and water is estimated at up to five episodes per child per year, he said at the opening of the 18th Session of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the Codex Coordinating Committee for Africa in Accra.
The FAO/WHO Coordination Committee for Africa (CCAFRICA) is one of the six regional coordinating committees for the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) established by the FAO and the 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 is 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.
He said the Disability Adjusted Life Years lost to Food and water-borne diarrhoea in the Africa region was four point one per 1000 globally as compared to five point seven to seven point one per 1000 in Africa.
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.
These, he said included cholera in many countries: Typhoid fever and botulism; pesticide poisoning through beans and vegetables; Bromide poisoning; diarrhoea and food poisoning.
A worrying developing, he said was the multi-drug resistant strains of the causative agents of food-borne diseases have been reported.
Some of the countries in the African region were affected by emergencies associated with melamine contaminated milk, milk products and pork products contaminated with dioxin, produced from pigs slaughtered in Ireland.
This, he attributed to the huge gaps in the laboratory capacity in the countries and noted that the 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 was of the view that 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.
"Hygiene of vending operation is a major source of concern in food control", he said and added that the current global food crisis has worsened an already precarious food situation.
He advised that it was therefore critically important to use the scarce food at our disposal safely, effectively and efficiently.
Against this background, he said the WHO regional committee for Africa adopted resolution AFR/RC53/R5 in 2003 in the Regional Food Safety Strategy and its accompanying resolution in August 2006 with a guiding principles of a holistic and risked based actions which apply the risk analysis principles.
Edouard Tapsoba, FAO Assistant Director General said food safety is indeed a priority of FAO work particularly in Africa and details of the agenda item on capacity building indicate the importance that FAO and WHO attach to capacity building activities in the area of food safety.
He said these activities cover 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.
The assistance provided, he said, allows national governments to take full responsibility for implementing all measures necessary for ensuring food safety and is taken in collaboration with the private sector and civil society.
Tapsoba said the ultimate goal of these food safety related activities is to contribute to 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.
He noted that one could never stress enough the fact that the international market had become more demanding in terms of safety and sanitary requirements adding that the world market was becoming increasingly difficult and that getting ejected is becoming increasingly easier.
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.
Tapsoba said these challenges would require political awareness and commitment at the highest level of government so that these issues are adequately addressed by, and receive proper support from, higher-level decision makers.