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Ensuring Food Safety: Uganda’s Efforts to Control Aflatoxins

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In a recent interview, Ms. Patricia Bageine Ejalu, the deputy executive director of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), emphasized the need for collective action to protect consumers from aflatoxin exposure in food.

Aflatoxins, harmful toxins produced by microbes, are often undetectable through sight or taste in contaminated food products. UNBS plays a crucial role in ensuring food safety by certifying products that adhere to Uganda’s standards. This process involves inspecting the production facilities, conducting laboratory tests, and awarding the Q-mark to compliant products.

Uganda’s standards set limits for aflatoxin levels in various food items, including maize grain, maize flour, millet, and sorghum. The maximum allowable limit for total aflatoxins is 10 milligrams per kilogram, with a specific focus on aflatoxin B1, which should not exceed five milligrams per kilogram.

Monitoring and enforcement of these standards occur throughout the food value chain, from farms to retail shops. UNBS concentrates on packaged products in supermarkets and retail shops. The organization conducts regular market surveillance to identify non-compliant products.

Businesses or individuals found violating these regulations may face fines or even imprisonment, as per the UNBS Act. However, UNBS prefers to educate and provide opportunities for compliance, reserving prosecution for repeat offenders or those who disregard the rules.

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in compliance with food safety regulations. For instance, the number of certified maize flour distributors in Uganda has risen from just four to over 400.

UNBS collaborates with various stakeholders, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Fisheries, to raise awareness about food safety risks and prevention measures. They emphasize the importance of following standards not only for aflatoxins but also for other food safety concerns.

To ensure food safety in the region, UNBS is working with neighboring countries like South Sudan to establish a comprehensive food safety chain, involving sanitary and phytosanitary permits (SPs) and UNBS’s Q-mark certification.

UNBS recommends that food producers prioritize safety over profits, especially in the handling and storage of grains. Consumers are urged to look for the Q-mark on products, as buying high-quality products contributes to market-driven price reductions and protects against health risks associated with aflatoxin exposure.

Local governments in Uganda’s districts play a vital role in representing UNBS and ensuring regular inspections to maintain food safety standards.