Tuesday (April 7th) will be World Health Day; a global health awareness day celebrated every year, under the sponsorship of the World Health Organization (WHO), with the focus being food safety this year.
According to WHO, the day is an opportunity to alert governments, manufacturers, retailers and the public to the importance of food safety - and the part each can play in ensuring that the food on people’ plates is safe to eat.
About two weeks ago, dozens of people in the Eastern province, were admitted after being served contaminated food by a local hotel (East Land Motel) at the graduation ceremony of Open University of Tanzania (OUT) in Ngoma.
Less than ten hours after the meal, dozens of people started to complain of severe headache, fever, diarrhea and stomach pains. One person was reported dead out of the over 45 people in critical condition.
Dr Rene Kaoze, from Kibungo Medical Centre, said tests carried out from Kibungo Hospital and Kigali laboratories confirmed that a salmonella bacterium was the cause of the infections.
Salmonella is a type of bacteria named after Daniel Elmer Salmon, the scientist who discovered it. It lives in the intestines of humans and animals and are excreted in the stool.
The infection causes gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
“What is evident is that the hotel was operating in a very unhygienic environment. From the kitchen to the toilets the situation is appalling,” said Inspector of Police Emmanuel Kayigi, Eastern Region Police spokesman.
Local residents also faulted hotel authorities for not being strict on hygiene.
Alex Ntaganira, a resident of Kayonza District, said most of the restaurants and hotels in the area were unhygienic.
Similarly, Divinity Bar and Restaurant at Kisementi, Kigali, was temporarily closed on Tuesday by city authorities after it’s kitchen was found in a bad state with poor drainage and no refrigerators.
The move, which coincided with the launch of the Hygiene Inspection Week, was undertaken in partnership with the three districts that make up the City of Kigali (CoK). Also, all other hotels and restaurants inspected that day like Hotel Chez Lando and the Manor Hotel, were found to have substandard kitchens.
Away from that, many locals will warn you about the risk of catching ‘amibe’ (intestinal worms) if you regularly eat in local restaurants.
These experiences, among others, have left many wondering whether local restaurants and hotels really meet standards as far as hygiene and cleanliness are concerned.
According to Joseph Katabarwa, head of Environmental Health and Food Safety at the Ministry of Health, food safety and sanitation is an ongoing process, so sensitizing of all restaurant workers about hygiene is a continuous process too.
He mentions that regular inspections are carried out. The areas given priority during the inspection are storage areas, toilets, kitchens and the people in charge of preparing and serving food.
John Mugabo, the acting director in charge of public health and environment, says a restaurant should not only have an operating license but also an occupational one.
“Meaning that, for instance, the building in which a restaurant is housed should be specially built for that purpose,” he said.
Mugabo says that according to their guidelines, a basic restaurant should have at least two qualified personnel in catering and hotel management.
“All restaurant staff should be screened for communicable diseases like T.B, measles and skin diseases, and are supposed to shower before getting to work. Pedal dustbins should be deployed and washrooms cleaned constantly.”
He remarks that the kitchen should be well ventilated, with good drainage, workers well dressed in shoes, white cap and apron, among other things.
Mugabo concludes that inspection of restaurants is done at sector level once a week, and twice at district level.
The Hygiene Inspection Week by CoK, which started on 31st March, is expected to end on the 10th of this month.
According to November 2014 WHO statistics, unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases - ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. And foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases kill an estimated 2 million people annually, including many children.
The WHO report also notes that food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick.
“Foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade. Food supply chains now cross multiple national borders. Good collaboration between governments, producers and consumers helps ensure food safety,” it notes.