Dossier

The importance of improving food safety in Africa

Unsafe food causes widespread ill health and economic losses. A wide range of innovations are needed to improve safety standards and global public health.

Within the Easycook facilities, high food standards are enforced © Oluyinka Alawode
Within the Easycook facilities, high food standards are enforced © Oluyinka Alawode

Thursday, 31 May 2018

To improve the safety and quality of food consumed in Nigeria, an online food shopping service is sourcing produce from trained and trusted suppliers and delivering it to the doors of working professionals. 

Established in 2005 by Saudat Salami, Easyshop Easycook is an online fresh food processor and grocer that delivers ready-to-cook ingredients to homes, offices, schools, hospitals, hotels and restaurants across Lagos in Nigeria. To ensure the pre-prepared food they process and deliver meets international food safety standards, suppliers to the company are provided with training in good agricultural practices, harvesting and post-harvest handling techniques. 

In Nigeria, more than 200,000 people die each year due to the consumption of contaminated or unsafe food. However, the implementation of food safety regulations is a challenge due to the food sector largely consisting of informal and unregulated producers and traders. And, although government agencies do exist to check the safety standards of packaged foods, none are yet in place to check fresh produce.  

Quality control 

To ensure clients receive safe and quality food items, such as chopped vegetables, washed grains or smoked fish, Easyshop Easycook buys fresh produce on a daily basis from markets or directly from the farms of trusted suppliers. “We can tell people exactly where the food from our platform comes from, and they can be assured it is not adulterated,” says Salami. Easyshop keeps a record of what they buy from every supplier so they can trace back to where the produce was sourced in case of customer complaints, or poor quality noted by office processors.  

Easyshop is also developing an out-grower scheme of registered farmers to produce only for them. “When farmers grow specifically for us, we can enforce food safety standards,” emphasises Salami. She explains that other technology companies delivering foodstuffs like hers should be encouraged to do the same to improve food safety standards across the country. There are also clear benefits for the farmers in accessing a steady and reliable market. “It is incredibly important to us that we offer local farming communities the opportunity to generate greater income by optimising and increasing the supply of quality food ingredients to business and retail customers,” Salami explains. 

Initially established to assist working parents balance their career and family responsibilities, Easyshop has also established partnerships with companies that want to promote healthy eating amongst their employees. The staff of such companies are able to process orders via SMS, WhatsApp or through a page on their own company’s website whilst at work. “We shop for the staff and deliver ready-to cook food to their homes or offices as they are about to close,” Salami explains. “Apart from shopping on their behalf, we also make it easier for them to cook their food – we scale the fish, cut the meat, pick the beans, cut the vegetables – and generally do all the prepping based on customer preference. By the time they get home, about 50% of the cooking is already done,” she adds. 

In-house hygiene 

Salami also enforces high standards within the Easycook facilities and among her 25 company employees. “All the water we use for our processes undergoes three levels of treatment to ensure cleanliness. Our butchery room is separate to where we prepare the vegetables to avoid any cross contamination and, every week, we do in-house training on food safety,” she says. “We also deliver all foods to our customers in appropriate packaging to maintain product freshness. Meat, for example, is delivered to customers in freezer-proof bags which ensure quality is not affected for 2 weeks if kept in the freezer.”  

Looking to the future, Salami plans to scale out. “We plan to establish ourselves in other Nigerian states and other African countries,” says Salami, who asserts that companies like hers will also improve the country’s exports, which have suffered setbacks due to unacceptable levels of residues, such as pesticides, being found on products.

Oluyinka Alawode

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The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.