Mr. Mamodou Bah, Director General of the Food Safety and Quality Authority (FSQA)
By Landing Ceesay
The Director General of the Food Safety and Quality Authority (FSQA), Mr. Mamodou Bah, has told journalists that expired food in the market is one of the least of their worries in the food control system.
“We talk about expired food products. I think we lost the meaning of expiring. In the Gambia, any food that we think is not good, we think is expired, that’s not necessarily the case. Expired food is one of the least of our worries when it comes to food control systems. Because an expired food doesn’t mean that the food is dangerous or toxic to the human being. It just means that the guarantee for that food is no more assured. So if you consume it, it is like you are consuming it at your own risk, that’s all.
“It means best before expired, used by. Those are the terminologies that they use in packaged food. The most important thing is about spoilage. We are working very hard to remove all spoiled products from the shelves. Let me tell you, at this period in the summer, we often have very high temperatures and high humidity. The minimum humidity is 30 or 40%. So that is the best ambient environment for microbial growth, particularly algae, bacteria, and so on,” Mr. Bah said.
The FSQA boss continued that any food that is not stored, handled, or processed properly, would have a high chance of being contaminated or spoiled.
The Food Safety and Quality Authority of The Gambia (FSQA) held a press briefing on Monday to address pressing national food safety issues. The briefing focused on recent food safety concerns that have been in the news. FSQA officials also provided information about their efforts to improve food safety in The Gambia.
Notably, a few months ago, the Mayor of Banjul reported a case where discarded mayonnaise was being recycled for cooking purposes and reported it to the police.
“So foods spoil very easily during this period, so we are actually examining them. Sometimes you will see a pot of mayonnaise on the shelf, the expiry date is five or six months down the line. But the product is already spoiled because it has changed in its nature, in its content, and its futurology. So those things are things that we look at and address.
“My technicians will agree with me that we have strengthened risk-based inspection. So we are not doing the risk inspection just on a regular or normal basis. We inspect based on risk, or we categorize based on risk, high-risk, medium-risk, and low-risk foods. So this is what we do,” he said.
Mr. Lamin Jaiteh, Principal Scientific Officer at FSQA, amplified the claim of his boss that expired food products in the market are the least of their worries.
Mr. Jaiteh emphasized that this stance represents not just the Food Safety and Quality Authority of the Gambia but a global perspective. He further conveyed to journalists that no country in the world allocates its resources to regulate expired foods in the market.
“When you look at products, there are different types of date markings. You see, sell by date, use by date, and you see sell on date, and they have different meanings. What this means is that, for example, if you see best before on the product, it tells you that past that date, the manufacturer cannot guarantee the quality of the product. I repeat, the quality of the product, not the safety.
“The quality is something that is subjective. Your definition of quality, my definition of quality, and her definition of quality might differ. But regardless, we, as an institution, regulate quality. We set a minimum requirement to determine to help us see what is required by law, this is what we determine as quality so that we can regulate it. So that it becomes a bit more objective for us. When you see use by date, sometimes is referred to as expired by. What the manufacturer is telling you is that past that date, he cannot guarantee the safety of the product. But it doesn’t mean if you eat the product, you will die,” he said.
Mr. Jaiteh told the journalists that people often eat bread that has been left out overnight, and they do not get sick. He said that eating expired food does not necessarily mean that someone will die.
“These are the clarifications that we have to make. The emphasis for us as a regulatory body is that before food is processed and packaged, we control the hazards that those products can cause. We go through that, and this is where we are focusing our resources on. If those things are controlled, then we don’t have to worry about going to the market and talking about going after these shops. Because the content is already safe, provided the storage and handling are respected, and this is where the consumer comes in, ” Mr. Jaiteh said.
FSQA Principal Scientific Officer Mr. Jaiteh said that many Gambians do not read the labels on food products before they buy them. He said that it is important to read the labels so that you know how to store the food properly. The labels also tell you about the ingredients in the food, which can be helpful if you have allergies or other dietary restrictions.
” This is the science that we work with. If the handling and storage is respected, this is our focus area and not really the date mark on the product. Because if these two things happen, the consumer is safe. I am not sure if there is anywhere in the world where you have heard that expired products have killed A, B, and C.
“And I keep telling this to people, the classical example I can give is that, if it is a microorganism, a pathogenic microorganism is what can kill. A spoilage microorganism just renders the food unpalatable. It reduces the quality. The classical example I give to people is that we see mad people going to dumpsites and eating foodstuff thrown there, did they ever die from it, and why is that so. Because the bacteria that are there are spoilage microorganisms. It just renders the food unpalatable. You eat it, you would not die of it. You can only die of it if it is pathogenic or there is a chemical contaminant,” he said.
The FSQA Principal Scientific Officer, Mr. Jaiteh, clarified that expired food is not necessarily toxic. He said that food can only become toxic if it has a hazard, such as bacteria or toxins, that can make it unsafe to eat. The FSQA is working to ensure that these hazards do not enter the food supply.
“This is why the DG (Mamodou Bah) is saying that expired food is the least of our worries. Because we are trying to focus our resources on the value chain, ” he said.
The Food Safety and Quality Authority of The Gambia (FSQA) has been criticized for the high rate of substandard food products in the Gambian markets. In response, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), through a co-funded project with the European Union, handed over laboratory equipment to the FSQA on August 31, 2022.
The equipment was intended to help the FSQA improve the legislative and regulatory environment for food fortification and ensure that there is an increased availability of fortified foods that comply with food fortification regulations. However, despite receiving this equipment, the Gambia continues to have a problem with substandard food products in the market.