Public Health

The national food control system: ensuring safe and nutritious food for all

23 novembre 2023, 12:14


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The national food control system: ensuring safe and nutritious food for all

Food legislation is a building block of the national food control system. In Mauritius, the Food Act 2022 and the Mauritius Food Standards Agency Act 2022 were passed on 5th July 2022 and 27th October 2022 respectively. However, these legal texts will come into force on a date to be fixed by proclamation, according to the website of the Mauritius National Assembly.

Everyone has the right to safe and nutritious food. The objective of the Food Act 2022 explicitly addresses “safety and nutritional quality of food”, thereby steering the national food control system towards safe and nutritious food for all. The Mauritius Food Standards Agency Act 2022 demonstrates the government’s commitment to improve effectiveness and efficiency of food control, and aims to ensure a high degree of consumer confidence in the safety and nutritional quality of food. It provides for the establishment of a corporate body to direct and manage an integrated national food control system. The forthcoming Mauritius Food Standards Agency will apply principles of impartiality and integrity as well as risk, science, and evidence-based decision- making in the management of food control processes for positive public health outcomes. It will play a pivotal role in raising food hygiene standards and food safety infrastructure in all types of food establishments in the country.

Everyone, from farm to consumer, is responsible for food safety. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)/World Health Organisation (WHO) Codex Alimentarius international food standards define food safety as: “assurance that food will not cause adverse health effects to the consumer when it is prepared and/or eaten according to its intended use”. Food Business Operators (FBOs) and food handlers throughout the food chain share responsibility for food safety. Effective food law enforcement by authorities is a key function of the national food control system to ensure compliance with mandatory food safety requirements. Consumers are the final link in the food chain and are considered as the last line of defense against food safety hazards.

Food safety hazards must be mitigated to protect public health and life. A hazard is defined as “a biological, chemical or physical agent in food with the potential to cause an adverse health effect”. Examples of food safety hazards include food poisoning bacteria, pesticide residues and fish bones. The risk of foodborne illness depends on the level of food hygiene and the severity of adverse health effects when exposed to a specified hazard. Some groups of the population are more at risk of developing severe food poisoning symptoms. These include the elderly, young children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune system due to ill health or medical treatment. A food safety hazard may be prevalent in the food chain but will not cause an adverse health effect if it is effectively controlled.

Food hygiene is essential to reduce risk of foodborne disease and refers to “all conditions and measures necessary to ensure the safety and suitability of food at all stages of the food chain”. Good Hygiene Practices (GHP) aim to attain a minimum level of food safety to protect consumer health and life. These are generic controls for food safety hazards which are relevant to most food production contexts. They are often referred to as Pre-Requisite Programmes (PRPs) which include: hand and personal hygiene; cleaning and disinfection; pest and waste control; hygienic design and construction of premises as well as equipment; product formulation and packaging; control of suppliers; storage/process conditions and control; product information; product shelf-life, date marking and food labelling; stock rotation and control. They constitute the foundation for the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system which focuses on higher level of control of significant food hazards for a specific food production process. In household kitchens, self-protection consciousness and good hygienic practices at all times contribute to ensure that safe food is served to the family. Continuing consumer education and food handlers’ training are important for the sustainability of food safety assurance implemented throughout the food chain.

Food service providers for high-risk groups must achieve high food hygiene standards to protect sick people, elderly, young children and pregnant women from life-threatening complications linked to foodborne illness. Food law enforcement contributes to prevent and detect non-compliances with relevant legal requirements. Risk-based tools can be effectively applied to prioritise enforcement activities and address resource challenges. For example, food catering services in hospitals, care homes and nursery schools would be inspected more frequently to adequately control food safety risks for in-patients, elderly and children.

Thus, there is a need for action to bring the Food Act 2022 and Mauritius Food Standards Agency Act 2022 into operation to increase the level of public health and life protection. Leadership and engagement of stakeholders in making food safety efforts are fundamental to food control system success and sustainability. The following proposed measures are shared to solicit national consultations and actions towards enhancing effectiveness of the food control system in ensuring safe and nutritious food for all:

  1. Develop a food control strategy that fosters an integrated approach to address interlinked food safety and nutrition priorities. A national food control strategy demonstrates Government commitment to provide resources for food control system enhancements to address identified areas for improvement.

  2. Increase investments in upgrading food safety infrastructure in all types of food businesses, including street food vendors, “snacks”, markets and food courts.

  3. Provide scientific, technical and financial support to micro-small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in fulfilling their responsibilities to comply with new food legislation.

  4. Develop enforcement codes of practice and industry guides to facilitate consistent, effective and efficient application of food law.

  5. Set up of a Food Hygiene and Safety Academy to deliver stakeholders with lifelong education and training, while engaging with local and international partners to upskill enforcement officers, food handlers, and consumers.

  6. Create a digital, responsive and proactive food control system through global partnerships to: enhance data sharing among competent laboratories; conduct data curation; enable effective food safety risk assessment; implement comprehensive traceability solutions. Food safety intelligence contributes to establish efficient food fraud vulnerability plans, as well as foodborne disease prevention, tracking, and mitigation networks.

  7. Promote research engaging stakeholders, including consumers, to investigate root causes of food poisoning and gastroenteritis to inform risk management and communication strategies for better public health protection.

  8. Collaborate with global partners to integrate food safety, nutrition, food security, and One Health initiatives towards the United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development.