Mass Food Poisoning Looms As Corruption, Sabotage Hit HACCP

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Lagos – Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, also known as HACCP, is a process control system that identifies where hazards might occur in the food production lines. Certain measures are put in place as a preventive mechanism against contaminations which may constitute threat against consumers’ health. Therefore, through strict monitoring of each production stage, it is presumed that there is less chance for occurrence of hazards. HACCP has been adopted in many countries of the world as a way to check food and water contaminations.

Unless and until a proactive measure is promptly taken by appropriate authority in Lagos State, to check the non-compliance of food establishments with HACCP regulations and alleged act of sabotage by staff of the agency in-charge of its implementation, massive food poisoning may soon break out in the state.

Dr. James Marsh, a food safety expert who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of James Marsh and Associates, who introduced the programme to the country, described HACCP as a management system which gives a systematic preventive approach to food safety, from biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished products.

Lagos State, taking a leading role as economic nerve centre of the country, launched the programme in February 2018 with the expectation that food establishments embrace it. Unfortunately, there seems to be little or no compliance.

After the launch, the state mandated that HACCP be implemented in all the food establishments in the state to get the desired results.

But months after the launch, SATURDAY INDEPENDENT’s investigations revealed that the objectives of HACCP were not properly pursued.

For a food establishment to be certified, that is HACCP compliant, there is need for such organisation to write the HACCP plan; get all the equipment needed; train staff on how to use the equipments and utensils well; train them of personal hygiene; cleanliness; food safety policy among others.

It was revealed that from some of the food organisations visited by our reporters, most of them are not even aware of what HACCP is all about. However, those that are aware are not getting the procedures right especially in the scheming of HACCP plan but they want to get certified.

Sources disclosed that some organisations that came up with their ‘so called’ HACCP plans copied documents from the internet without understanding the wherewithal.

Such plans are being rejected by officials who are in charge of the inspections and were instructed to go back and do the right thing that will suit the production process of their various establishments.

However, those that got their plans near perfection could not defend what they have done and have not put in place the right mechanism to really get HACCP certification.

“Some establishments will bring the plan and you find out that it is alright. Surprisingly when you get to the field, you find out that those that will use the plans were not trained. They cannot make use of the plan. In other places, the management may not even be aware of HACCP talkless of its implementation,” said a staff in the state’s health ministry.

Since the programme was launched in the state in February, no organisation has been certified, but it was alleged that the Director in charge of HACCP (name withheld) is planning to certify these organisations despite their non-compliance with the state’s directive.

“No organisation has been certified but my director wants us to certify about 10 before the end of the month of July. Some of them that are near perfection but they still need to do more,” said another officer who spoke on anonymity.

It was also revealed that some big organisations are exempted from inspection, as some of them believed that they are not subjected to any certification in Nigeria because they are running on the standard of their home country.

“Shoprite said that they have their standards from South Africa and I am sure that if anybody goes to South Africa, the organisation will not say this is our standard in Nigeria. That is the problem we have; they do not want to conform with our standard; they want to do theirs. What Shoprite presented was just the organisation plan which does not have anything to do with HACCP,” added the officer.

A visit to ‘The Place’ by SATURDAY INDEPENDENT revealed that the organisation is not even ready for HACCP based on activities going on in the outlets. Also some water factories felt that they are too small to get the certification.

Some of the food establishments also doubt if the state is so keen about actualisation of the safety plan. According to them, inspectors come for inspections with hired vehicles as against Lagos State branded vehicles. This insinuated some of them to doubt the authenticity of the officials. However, on the presentation and display of their identity cards, they had no option than to believe them.

Further enquiries by SATURDAY INDEPENDENT confirmed that these inspectors, who were afraid of losing their jobs had to go out of their ways to pay for the hired vehicles from their meager salary.

One of the crews who spoke in confidence with our reporters said they don’t have access to any of the buses assigned to the department.

“Ordinarily, we inspectors that are supposed to do the leg work are not given vehicles to transport ourselves to wherever we want to inspect. We hire vehicle to go for inspection without being reimbursed,” adding that, “there are vehicles assigned to the department under the ministry of health but we do not have access to it.”

However, Dr. Marsh, the initiator of the programme in Lagos said that he is not happy with the way the programme is being run, saying it has digressed from the original plans and purpose.

According to him, “If this anomaly is not rectified, HACCP will just be on the paper because many companies will not meet up but they will just be getting certificates. They will not be HACCP compliant and it will affect the future of HACCP in the state. We will go back to food poisoning which HACCP is trying to control and curtail.”

Corroborating the claims of the inspectors and the food establishments on the allegations of non access to the vehicles, Dr. Marsh admitted that the ministry has not been fair with their policy.

“How do you expect your inspectors to do a great job? They have to source for money to transport themselves. They don’t get transport allowance. Whatever is coming from up disappears somewhere. So their preoccupation when they go for inspection is how to pay for chartered vehicles because the vehicle is not free and they are doing government job,” Marsh added.

A chat with Dr. Femi Onanuga, Special Adviser to the Governor on Primary Health, in his office, shows that the Lagos State government might not be aware of the shady deal in the sector.

He said the ministry has neither appointed nor designated anybody as the state or ministry’s consultant but “we appreciate any organisation that wants to add value to anything we are doing unconditionally. HACCP plans submitted in 2017 was a total of 106 while 2018 had additional 29, totaling 135 so far received.”

He noted that audit inspections were conducted in 2017/2018 and that to date, about 11 companies have been recommended for certification though no one has been issued.

Asked for the various steps the company had to take before they are certified, Onanuga gave the following advice: “When you submit HACCP plan, a letter of acknowledgement will be issued. The payment for review of the plan, N15,000 must be paid by the establishment. After that, audit inspection will be conducted. It is expected that the plan should be reasonable and explicitly written and not that the establishment has just downloaded the resource material on the HACCP and send to the ministry. If the plan is not good, it will be sent back to the company and re-presented to the ministry. If the plan fails the audit inspection, the sum of N10,000 will be paid for second review. However, if the company scales through audit inspection, it will be recommended for certification and pay the sum of N25,000 to the government,” he said.

He said however that this process can take months since they have just started the operation.

But on the allegation that some foreign food establishments operating in Lagos were exempted from HACCP plans, Onanuga said he was not aware.

“From what she (director) has written to me, there is nobody that is being exempted from what the officer in charge has sent. No exemption.”

He equally said he was not aware that Shoprite claimed to have their standard from South Africa. “That is not to my knowledge. I did not get that information from those that are in charge.”

On whether he was aware that others like Oriental Hotel, Intercontinental Hotel, Western Hotel and others, visited by our reporters also insisted of having their own standards, he also said he was not aware.

“It is not to my knowledge but I can also enquiry to get authentic information about those ones but it is not to my knowledge.”

Further enquiries on whether inspectors have always been denied to use Lagos State branded vehicles to carry out their inspections but rather go on hired vehicles, Onanuga also claimed not to be aware of the development but promised to find out.

“That is not also to my knowledge because there is 12- seater bus that was designated to that directorate that is supposes to take them to everywhere they are going and it is funded by government and if anybody is going out without the designated bus and not government vehicle he is on his own and we have not caught anybody to that extent. If we are able to catch anybody that is doing that, we will give them the appropriate punishment. We have not caught anyone. We will also inquire from them.

“They are supposed to go out with the bus because we have the vehicles for them. They are supposed to go in the Lagos State branded vehicles. There are two buses there for them to use for inspections.”

Onanuga however assured that government will do everything to achieve its dream goal on safety of food and it’s allied. “We are doing enough, we cannot do it all. We can’t do it at a time. We have just started and we will continue to improve on what we are doing.”

The post Mass Food Poisoning Looms As Corruption, Sabotage Hit HACCP appeared first on Independent Newspapers Nigeria.

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