The feeling of being filled with a great meal after being famished is one that cannot be compromised.
However, for many Ghanaians who are often on the move and away from home, this meal is likely to have been prepared and bought from a third party.
The availability of this demand explains why it is almost impossible not to spot vendors of popular Ghanaian foods like Waakye, Ga Kenkey, kelewele and fufu on almost every street corner, market, or bus terminal.
Besides, consumers of these meals have become some sort of experts in their ability to know the best joints for each food. To this end, one might travel miles just to get a taste of the best fried pork and yam chips or Jollof rice.
Once it’s their favorite, they will do all they can to get it.
But in the hunt to grab a plate of our favourite dishes, do we consider the hygienic conditions in which these vendors sell the food?
Even more, do we ever wonder the conditions under which these meals are prepared, the integrity of the cooking environment and whether or not the meals are fit for human consumption?
In many cases, the answer is no! it seems many Ghanaians, buyers and vendors alike could not be bothered as long as one gets the meal so longed for and the other, his or her money.
The government is aware of this indifference on the part of consumers and vendors thus it has made the award of the health certification for food vendors mandatory to ensure best practices for the production and serving of wholesome food.
Indeed, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly’s Food and Hygiene by-laws enacted in 2017 are clear on how one qualifies to become a food vendor.
Regulation 9 of the by-laws states as follows;
(a) All food handlers shall be subjected to screening by service providers contracted by the Assembly or Accredited by the Metro Public Health Department.
(b) All food handlers who are found fit to handle food shall be issued with valid health certificate by the Metro Public Health Department. This certificate shall be renewed after expiry on yearly basis.
(c) Food handlers shall produce health certificate on demand by an authorized officer of the Assembly or its accredited or contracted service provider.
(d) Food handlers may be required to undergo training in basic food hygiene and obtain certificate to that regard from recognized institution.
All local assemblies have been given the power under section 181 of the Local Government Act of 2016, Act 936 to make such laws as the AMA has done to protect the consuming public from food vendors who may not take their health and hygiene seriously.
Local assemblies are therefore in-charge of inspecting and certifying all food vendors who operate in their jurisdiction but with such businesses popping up by the day, it is almost impossible to regulate them.
What this means is that a good majority are not operating with these certificates, creating the leeway for unhygienic practices in this critical point in the food business.
Imagine that as the country is working to fight off the coronavirus pandemic there are vendors with contagious health conditions including flu and the like and even asymptomatic covid-19 walking about selling food.
It is clear that a lot has to be done when it comes to the issue of the food Ghanaians consume on a daily basis.
Education and Enforcement
The authorities need to provide constant education to Ghanaians on the potential health risks of not eating from the right sources.
Ghana has never had a poverty of laws. There are many and enough laws to help us scale many of our problems. The challenge, however, is in enforcing the laws; ensuring that what the law says is done. That is the difficulty.
There must be the enforcement of all regulations designed to keep food vendors on their toes by undertaking frequent visits to such vendors to inspect their conditions. The task force arms of the various local assemblies must be nudged to get to work, for what is the point in having a task force that is shy of enforcing basic regulations?
The other hindrance to enforcement is political interest or lack of political will. The assemblies will achieve very little if their political bosses do not support them in this regard, even though the law in black and white has made a prescription.
Consumers may take all the precautions but if vendors are not fit to satisfy the hungry stomachs of Ghanaians, then the war against all food-related health conditions like food poisoning, diarrhoea and other contagious diseases will never be won.
According to the AMA, food handlers or food vendors’ medical screening is done solely at the sub metros. All sub-metros have laboratories with qualified laboratory technicians assigned to them to be able to discharge this duty. The AMA says it takes two weeks to complete the medicals and only medically fit persons will be issued with the food handler’s card.
Any penalty for defaulters?
A famous person once said that a law without sanctions is just a piece of advice with no binding effect or consequences. While this is generally true, it is important that people know what consequences await them should they fail the test of the law. Fortunately, the Food and Hygiene by-laws, 2017 passed by the AMA has sanctions and persons who sell food without the health certificate could go to jail or be fined.
Regulation 14 of the Food and Hygiene by-laws reads;
A person who contravenes this Bye-law commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine, not more than one hundred penalty units or a term of imprisonment of not less than thirty days and not more than six months or to both; and in case of a continuing offence, is liable to a fine of not more than one penalty unit for each day that the offence continues. Fifty percent (50%) of the fine paid should be allotted to Accra Metropolitan Assembly.
Though this law has not been amply deployed to curb the nuisance of having unfit persons sell food, a few vendors have suffered the brunt of the law before. In July 2019, four workers of ‘Ye Kum Kom’ restaurant in Accra, near the Rawlings Park were fined by a court for their inability to produce their food handlers’ certificate as required by law.
Local assemblies have a duty to protect the consuming public from unhygienic and unwholesome food. It however appears they have been sleeping on their job while the public is left at the mercy of food vendors. Local authorities must rise and do the right thing!
The writer, Afia Owusu Agyeman, works with Citi TV/Citi FM