Bangladesh must build more laboratories and modernise the existing ones to test more samples, because this will help boost food safety throughout the country.
A group of experts from the food and nutrition sector made the remark on Wednesday at a virtual stakeholder consultation workshop on the draft National Food Safety Strategic Plan 2022-26, adding that the appointment of more permanent manpower will further smooth out the process.
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) drafted the plan with technical support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and these agencies jointly organised the workshop too. Sanjay Dave, former chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, presented the keynote.
At the event, experts said the Food Planning and Monitoring Unit (FPMU) – under the Ministry of Food – plays a key role in the ongoing food safety research and serves as an important unit for bridging and strengthening policies that support access to safe and nutritious food.
But a lack of adequate lab facilities has been interrupting this process. To ensure food safety in every corner of Bangladesh, the authorities should increase the number of modern labs, upgrade the existing ones and appoint more officials on a permanent basis, they added.
The authorities should put more emphasis on laboratory fundamentals such as method validation and proficiency testing to ensure that the results of analysis on the same sample are consistent across all labs.
Labs should also focus on building a sustainable operations model, which will allow them to earn revenue through their services. Under the draft plan, the BFSA has put more importance on collecting primary data on the presence of contaminants and hazards in food, instead of depending on secondary data, experts said.
Moreover, they recommended that the BFSA coordinate more with the stakeholders, improve the licensing process of food businesses, form a food safety council, take more public health initiatives and ensure overall effective food safety management – which covers systems, processes, institutions and standards.
The previous food safety project – implemented by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare – had produced several manuals and Standard of Procedures (SoP) for bakers, food producers, street food vendors and related producers.
Experts recommend reviewing and updating these documents for further boosting food safety and security in Bangladesh.
Presenting the keynote, Sanjay Dave said, "The salient features of the draft National Food Safety Strategic Plan 2022-26 are – having a legal base under the Food Safety Act, and aligning to the 8th Five Year Plan of Bangladesh, National Food Policy 2006 and National Food and Nutrition Security Policy-2006.
"The draft also fulfils the objectives of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)."
He further said, "The BFSA and the industries should partner up, specifically in implementing a strategic plan where the industries will participate more in preparing regulations. An increase in awareness among all stakeholders regarding the issue will grant more credibility to the industry and its products."
Sanjay also spoke in favour of including the food safety issue in the academic curriculum.
At the programme, experts emphasised the need for clearly defining closer-to-real estimates of dietary risk exposures to hazardous materials, such as heavy metals, harmful colorings, pesticide residues as well as some nutrients, trace elements and minerals that are likely enter the food chain in higher-than-safe amounts.
They recommended granting more authority to officials working in the food safety and security sector, considering and prioritising national issues before formulating new regulations and holding learning sessions and workshops on food safety for both officials and industry personnel.
FAO – under the Meeting the Under-nutrition Challenge (MUCH) project – has already provided technical support to the BFSA for updating the National Food Safety Strategic Plan 2017-21 in accordance with the above mentioned points.