Did you know there are over 200 mild to deadly foodborne diseases that affect 1 in 10 people worldwide each year? Here in Ghana, we’re proud ‘foodies’: our food is central to our culture and identity. Yet, even our most nutritious meals are vulnerable – prone to mishandling, poisoning and contamination, perishability, and other hazards. Food safety is integral to environmental sanitation and public health at large, and, according to the World Health Organization (“WHO”), is a “shared responsibility between governments, producers, and consumers.” The WHO therefore annually celebrates World Food Safety Day on June 7; this year’s theme, “Safer food, better health,” highlights the importance of food safety to human health and well-being.
We take our food seriously in the Ghanaian legal landscape as well. Safeguarding our food requires a strong regulator, and the Food and Drugs Authority (“FDA”) certainly plays that part. Key provisions in the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851) shed light on how Ghanaian law presently ensures food safety:
Businesses that breach these rules can face significant fines and even imprisonment for their key staff.
These rules affect all business, large and small. Street food is part and parcel of the Ghanaian lifestyle, and the FDA has recently acted to bring this informal sector into its enforcement net. It recently launched a street food vending permit scheme to promote proper food handling and hygiene practices and reduce the incidence of food-borne illness in the country. Piloted in November 2021 in the Korle Klottey Municipal Assembly and scaled up other regions since, the scheme currently entails inspections of roadside food vendor practices, medical examination of the vendors to certify health status, and the issuance of vending permits to approved vendors.
Beyond the regulatory regime is the court of public perception. From the trusted food blogger to alert us of any red flags at in our hospitality sector to Twitter whistleblowing on a food poisoning scandal involving a popular restaurant chain, social media has catalyzed the resolve to hold food vendors accountable in all respects.
The Greater Accra Regional Environmental Health and Sanitation Director recently said Accra is sitting on “food poisoning time bomb” with unwholesome food sold “everywhere.“ With this in mind, aggrieved Ghanaian consumers may move beyond mere complaints and toward compensation demands in a not so distant future. The FDA regulatory regime – and any fines paid by defaulting parties – does not compensate victims of poor food hygiene. While presently uncommon, could food safety litigation under tort liability theories such as negligence and product liability be nearer than anticipated? Should food-specific consumer protection legislation be considered?