The Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) has begun a campaign to sensitise food sellers and consumers to mechanisms to prevent aflatoxin contamination and its negative impact on human lives.
The five-day exercise, which started last Monday, August 31, seeks to create an awareness of food crops which are also staple foods in the country and their susceptibility to aflatoxin.
Some major markets in Madina, Nima, Agbogbloshie, Makola, Dome, Amasaman and Kasoa have been targeted for the exercise in Accra.
Dangers of aflatoxins
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), aflatoxins are poisonous substances produced by certain kinds of fungi (moulds) that are found naturally all over the world. They can contaminate food crops and pose serious health threat to humans and livestock.
Aflatoxin attacks crops throughout the production chain, especially when non-resistant seeds are used for planting without proper cultural practices and good storage mechanisms.
When aflatoxin-contaminated foods are consumed they present health challenges that include liver cancer, damage to foetuses, stunted growth in children, immune suppression and in extreme cases death.
The substance also poses a significant economic burden, causing an estimated 25 per cent or more of the world’s food crops to be destroyed annually.
To curb the negative impact of aflatoxin, the GSA has collaborated with the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) under a National Aflatoxin Sensitisation and Management Project to create awareness of what needs to be done to arrest its damaging effects.
The Head of the Mycotoxin Laboratory at GSA, Mr Derry Dontoh, at one of the outreach programmes held yesterday to sensitise the market woman at the Makola Market, observed that the campaign had become necessary due to the damaging impact aflatoxin was having on human lives.
Explaining, he said when foods contaminated with aflatoxins were consumed they posed many health challenges so it was important that people were educated on moulds found in food.
“Our checks indicate that the number of liver cancer cases at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital has gone up and we realise that it is not due to Hepatitis B only, but also through contaminated food that we eat,” he said.
Mr Dontoh said inasmuch as food contaminated with aflatoxin posed a health risk, it also affected the country’s international trade as foreign trade partners often blacklisted countries whose food products were contaminated with aflatoxin.
He said the country’s exports had been receiving warning alerts since 2007 because of the presence of aflatoxin in exported food products.
“We realised that foods exported from Ghana to countries in the European Union (EU) were often returned with alerts which indicate high levels of aflatoxins in the exported food product.
“If nothing is done about it and the country is blacklisted, no food will be allowed out of the country to any of the significant destinations and that could hurt the export business real hard,” he said.
The Executive Director of Food Chain Bureau, Ms Alberta Nana Akyaa Akosah, said sensitising market women in the food value chain to prevent aflatoxin contamination was a crucial step and must be commended and supported by all stakeholders.