Safe Eating and Varied Diets in African Cities

Jenn Hoskins
26th March, 2024

Safe Eating and Varied Diets in African Cities

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In Ghana's urban markets, some fresh foods contain harmful bacteria and toxins
  • Dry season sees a 38% increase in foodborne illnesses like diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Despite varied diets, food safety remains a concern, unaffected by seasonality
In Ghana, a country marked by rapid urban growth, food security is a pressing issue, particularly in cities where residents heavily rely on traditional open-air markets for their food supplies. Ensuring food safety, a critical component of food security, is becoming an increasingly urgent concern. These markets, while convenient, are susceptible to risks such as inadequate hygiene and sanitation practices, as well as the impact of seasonal weather variations. The University of Bonn has conducted a study[1] that sheds light on the safety of fresh food commodities in these markets and how seasonal changes affect the incidence of foodborne illnesses and the variety in urban diets. The study employed a combination of food microbial and retail data collected from surveys in major Ghanaian cities to evaluate the safety of fresh food products. The research also analyzed two waves of panel household data using statistical models to estimate the influence of weather seasonality on diarrhoea incidence and urban household dietary diversity scores (HDDS). The results are concerning: several food samples tested positive for harmful bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and E.coli, with aflatoxin B1 levels exceeding 5.0 parts per billion—a clear indication that not all food sold in urban markets is safe to consume. Alarmingly, the incidence of diarrhoea and vomiting, indicators of food safety, spiked during the dry season by an average of 38 percentage points compared to the rainy season. However, the study found no significant seasonal effects on HDDS, suggesting that while urban households have access to a diverse diet, the safety of that diet is compromised. These findings echo previous research, which has highlighted the vulnerability of certain populations to food safety issues. A study[2] in Northern Ghana identified significant disparities in food consumption expenditure and dietary diversity between male- and female-headed households, pointing to systemic vulnerabilities. Another study[3] in Accra revealed that certain foods, especially those consumed outside the home, were more likely to transmit diarrhoeal diseases. This aligns with the current study's findings that food safety is a significant challenge in urban markets. Moreover, an analysis of diarrhoea morbidity in the Jasikan District of Ghana[4] showed a decreasing trend in diarrhoea incidence over five years, suggesting improvements in environmental conditions. However, the current study's revelation of a seasonal spike in diarrhoea and vomiting cases indicates that, while there may be a general downtrend, seasonal factors still play a critical role in foodborne illnesses. The study from the University of Bonn underscores the need for stronger enforcement of food safety regulations in Ghana's urban food markets. The presence of harmful bacteria in food products and the seasonal variance in foodborne illness cases highlight the risks that consumers face, particularly in the dry season. This research calls for urgent action to address the structural deficiencies within food systems and to improve food safety, thereby ensuring the well-being of urban populations in Ghana. In conclusion, while urban households in Ghana may have access to a variety of foods, the safety of these foods is not guaranteed, particularly in the dry season. The findings from the University of Bonn's study emphasize the complex interplay between food safety, seasonality, and urban food markets. Addressing these issues is not only critical for the health of the urban population but also for achieving broader goals of food security and public health in developing countries.



Main Study

1) Food safety and dietary diversity in African urban cities: evidence from Ghana.

Published 25th March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Food Poverty, Vulnerability, and Food Consumption Inequality Among Smallholder Households in Ghana: A Gender-Based Perspective.

3) Household food sources and diarrhoea incidence in poor urban communities, Accra Ghana.

4) Trends for Diarrhea Morbidity in the Jasikan District of Ghana: Estimates from District Level Diarrhea Surveillance Data, 2012-2016.

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