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Webinar Series 1: The Increasing Number of Eateries and Franchised Fast Food Outlets in Nigeria: Implications for Food Safety Amid the Covid-19 Pandemic

The preponderance of eateries and franchised food outlets in most cities and towns in Nigeria has been associated with increased consumption of highly refined processed foods…

the responsibility of the operators must be to ensure that the nutritional contents of the foods served in their QSR outlets are made known to consumers in form of nutrition facts and labels


Suite 720A, 7TH Floor, Mulliner Towers, 39 Alfred Rewane Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria

The Increasing Number of Eateries and Franchised Fast Food Outlets in Nigeria: Implications for Food Safety Amid the Covid-19 Pandemic

CAFSANI Webinar Series 1

Date: 7th October, 2020; Time: 10:30 – 12:30

Location: Zoom Meeting Room; Number of Participants: 59

Moderator

  • Prof Olugbenga Ogunmoyela – Professor of Food Science and Technology, Bells University of Technology Ota, Past Chairman of the Body of Fellows of the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology and Executive Director, CAFSANI

Background

Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) also known as Eateries, have become increasingly popular in the country as majority of the people in their middle age consume fast foods. This drive for “convenience” is largely driven by urbanization and the attendant lifestyle of Nigerians who often spend enormous amounts of time away from home. This encourages them to look for a quick fix to meet their meal requirements. Many of these food outlets are located around the major streets and shopping malls in the country with individuals of different socio-economic class constantly moving in and out all day long to purchase their meals.

While some QSRs are set up to serve indigenous meals, some serve intercontinental dishes while others offer a variety of confectionaries and pastries. The design of these food service facilities is usually based on the type of target customers. While there are many locally popular QSRs in the country (both branded and unbranded), the number of franchised international brands has continued to increase significantly in the last two decades. It is estimated that a total number of QSRs in Nigeria stands at over 900, showing growth despite the recession from over 800 in 2014. The daily revenue is about N200 billion according to the Association of Fast Food and Confectioners of Nigeria (AFFCON). Popular franchised food outlets in Nigeria include Dominos, KFC, Krispy Kreme, Cold Stone Creamery, Pizza Hut, Mr Biggs, Sweet Sensation, Tantalizers, Finger Lickin, Kabachi, Tastee Fried Chicken, etc.

Hence, in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the non-observance of the prescribed social distancing protocols all over the country and the evident non-compliance with expected quality standards in many of these outlets, calls for serious concern. This is particularly so with an estimated 173m incidences of food-borne illness in the country, many of which arise from consumption of stale, unwholesome, infected, improperly prepared, and foods not kept within the prescribed temperature zone in these restaurants.

The absence of any visible regulatory responsibility or supervision also means that operators get away with these unwholesome practices both at the front-end and back-end of their operations, while only a few are believed to practice self-regulation or show any form of customer orientation. This suggests that these eateries have become an all-comers affair and lives are being, avoidably, put at risk. It has therefore become pertinent to examine the situation in these QSRs’ with regard to food safety compliance and how to bring about strict enforcement of regulations if we are to ensure that consumer safety and health is repositioned at the forefront.

CAFSANI As the Voice of The Consumer for Safe and Nutritious Foods in Nigeria

Consumer Advocacy for Food Safety and Nutrition Initiative (CAFSANI) was established specifically to serve as an advocacy platform in Nigeria and beyond, as may be necessary to inform, protect, educate and promote consumer interests against the increasing incidences of sharp and unwholesome practices in the area of food safety and nutrition. CAFSANI provides a credible advocacy platform for promoting best food safety practices, consumer education and awareness of nutritious foods. The goal is to leverage on the emerging innovative technologies for advocacy activities in order to be able to alert the general public in real-time, on the dangers of unethical practices, as well as improperly prepared and processed foods. The unsuspecting consumer has an expectation that must be met at all times in the absence of which there are  adverse consequences on the health and well-being which may even result in death.

As part of the core objectives of CAFSANI to secure the rights of consumers to safe and nutritious foods, CAFSANI has identified some major problems associated with many of these franchised fast food outlets in Nigeria that require urgent actions. These include:

  • Poor regulatory compliance by the Local Government Health Authorities
  • Disregard for and complete absence of standard batch production schedules
  • Poor internal/external audits, monitoring and enforcement
  • Lack of accountability due to general environmental apathy and laxity
  • Operators taking consumers for granted with “watered” down standards
  • Poor hygiene and housekeeping practices and ambience in many of the facilities
  • Poor and inadequate attention to quality even to serving of stale foods

Webinar Objective:

A web conference to address the effects of continued non-regulation of the increasing number of eateries and franchised fast-food outlets in Nigeria on food safety amid COVID-19 pandemic

The exponential evolution of fast-food/quick service restaurant in Nigeria is of increasing concern from the point of view of safety and nutrition. The South-West Nigeria alone is reported to have over 500 outlets, while the total number of outlets in the country is estimated conservatively at well over 900 and still increasing. Considering the challenges of our national nutrition indices, food safety issues, waste disposal challenges and increasing breach of global standard operating procedures for quick service restaurants (QSRs), one cannot but imagine the challenges and hazards associated with this trend.

The preponderance of eateries and franchised food outlets in most cities and towns in Nigeria has been associated with increased consumption of highly refined processed foods which are not focused on promoting healthy food choices but significantly on carbohydrates in terms of foods and beverages. Increased and uncontrolled consumption of these processed and highly refined foods have been associated in various studies with the emergence of many non-communicable diseases such as Diabetes mellitus (DM), hypertension, cerebro-vascular disease, coronary artery disease (CAD) and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

Attention therefore needs to be given to the regulation of these fast-food outlets, so that they can be appropriately controlled to play significant roles amid the pandemic. Building the immunity levels in the populace during and beyond covid-19 pandemic will therefore require increased public consciousness of healthy food choices, especially promotion of increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fibre-rich diets.

In addition, although regulatory supervision of Eateries, Restaurants and Hotels is vested in Local Governments, it is clear that the advent of these global franchised fast food outlets poses a significant challenge to the LGs because of absence of supervisory capacity. Obviously, there is a huge gap presently and any such supervisory activities undertaken by NAFDAC is illegal. Hence, the Federal Ministry of Health and the various agencies of Government at Federal and State levels will need to look critically into how effective supervision of these outlets can be achieved and the current gaps bridged. 

  Recommended Actionable Initiatives

Socio-economic context of food hygiene and safety hazards in eateries and franchised fast-food (FFF) outlets

  • Food preparation areas/units: in hotels, restaurants, and eateries are hotspots for opportunistic growth of pathogenic micro-organisms.
  • The operating procedure of cooking, warming and rewarming of meals is a norm in fast-food outlets and eateries. This is not an hygienic food handling practice, especially in a tropical environment like Nigeria.
  • Under the prevailing tropical environmental conditions, infections through food and water are common and include gastro-intestinal infections like vomiting, diarrhea, typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, jaundice, etc.
  • The significant oversight by the responsible government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) along the food value chain lead to widespread foodborne diseases in Nigeria.
  • An estimated 173 million cases of diarrhea are caused by foodborne illness annually in Nigeria, and about 33,000 deaths from these illnesses. 
  • Children under five are particularly at risk.
  • Cost of treating food borne illnesses depresses GDP and the economy of the country

Appropriate hygiene, and safety measures in the operation of eateries and FFF amid COVID-19 pandemic

  • Wash hand with soap and clean water regularly
  • Physical distancing with marked floors
  • Installation of plexiglass to avoid contact at cashier counter and among customers
  • Home delivery is a safer option to eat in
  • Proper use of gloves, disinfectants and sanitizers can help minimize the risk of virus spread
  • Safe handling of purchased goods is as important as safe purchase from the market
  • Scrubbling of food items not meant to be cooked before eating e.g. fruit and vegetable is essential
  • Canned foods should be wiped before opening
  • Standard good hygiene practices (GHPs) should be COVID-19 normalized at eateries.

Specific Recommendations for the operations of large-scale eateries and fast-food outlets in the context of COVID-19 challenges and existing threats from compliance gaps

  • The Draft Food Safety and Quality Bill FSQB (2016) that was developed should be passed into Law without any further delay. The regulatory responsibility for these large-scale Eateries and Franchised Food Outlets can no longer be realistically vested in the LGAs in view of their resource and capacity gaps but perhaps in a separate self-sustaining agency. The passing of this Bill into law shall help to bridge the current gaps inherent in the oversight function of Departments of government responsible for regulating safety conduct and practices among large-scale eateries and FFF outlets.

Passing of such bill will see to the following:

Good hygiene practices of eateries and FFF outlets need to be enforced:

  • Cleaning and maintenance of the premises
  • Pest control systems to be used
  • Drainage and waste disposal
  • Personal hygiene
  • Handling of Visitors-Customers buying food etc

Good manufacturing practices of eateries and FFF outlets also need to be enforced:

  • Location, surroundings, and Infrastructure
    • Equipment and facilities used within the plant
    • Procurement and storage of raw materials
    • Procurement and storage of packaging materials
    • Documentation of all food production records
    • Consumer awareness
    • Training of the food handlers

Highlights of Presentations                                                                                        

  1. Increasing Hotels, Restaurants, Eateries, Franchised Fast Foods Outlets and Catering Services (HORECA) in Nigeria: Food Hygiene and Safety Perspectives – Dr Augustin Okoruwa, Head, GAIN EatSafe Program in Nigeria

Food is considered safe only when there is nothing in it that can cause harm to the consumer: be it physical objects like broken glass, stones, iron pieces, harmful chemicals or pathogenic microbes. In Nigeria, an estimated 173 million cases of diarrhea and about 33,000 deaths are caused by foodborne illness annually with under-five children particularly at risk. This leads to an estimated US$ 1.7 billion expended annually in the treatment of these illnesses. The Federal Ministry of Health is responsible for the formulation of national policies, guidelines and regulations on food safety management and hygiene practices, as well as the monitoring of implementation, however, there is no policy domestication at state and local government levels. In such a tropical environment, infections through food and water are common and include gastro-intestinal infections like vomiting, diarrhea, typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, jaundice, etc. where food preparation units in the hotels, restaurants, catering outfits including the street food vendors and the kitchen at home are hotspots for such opportunistic growth of pathogenic micro-organisms. It is important that all food handlers, whether at home or those in the food service industry, need to ensure and maintain the highest levels of food safety and hygiene across the entire food chainand do way with bulk cooking for prolonged serving. In addition, such foods must be maintained at optimum temperatures while Good Hygiene Practices must be maintained at all times to ensure food safety.

Furthermore, amid covid-19 pandemic, it is pertinent that all food establishments regularly monitor their staff, ensure regular hand washing of food handlers and customers with strict enforcement of personal protective use by both food handlers and customers.

  • Increasing Eateries and Franchised Food Outlets in Nigeria: Implications for Food Safety Post Covid-19 Pandemic – Prof. WA Afolabi, Professor of Community Nutrition, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta

Food globalization brings about nutritional transitions where traditional diets are now being replaced by modern diets. These foods are generally characterized by energy density, poor micronutrients, low fiber and high sugar, salt and sodium content. Consumption of processed and highly refined foods have increased globally with increase in emergence of eateries and franchised foods as a result of urbanization, globalization, technological advancement and economic growth. High consumption of these foods coupled with a sedentary lifestyle have been associated with the risk of chronic non-communicable diseases such as overweight & obesity, diabetes, hypertension etc. NAFDAC, LGAs and LGACs are responsible for regulating and monitoring these food outlets to ensure compliance with food laws.  In controlling and preventing Covid-19 infections, innate immunity is the first line of defence against SARS-Cov-2 and any other infection. This is why patients with NCDs are regarded as the most vulnerable because they have compromised immunity levels which hinder their capacity to ward off infections. Yet, in a survey conducted in Abeokuta in eateries, it was observed that the foods most regularly served or purchased were mostly doughnuts and jollof rice and sweetened beverages. This is significant as similar trends have been observed all over the country in the last decade, which has led to a significant proneness to increased overweight and obesity even amongst the young and active population groups.  

This therefore means that if consumers are to build immunity during and beyond the covid-19 pandemic, it will require a conscious focus by operators in presenting healthy food choices in such outlets, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fibre, in addition to sensitization on the need for engaging in increased physical exercises and activities. This is one way to help in reducing the risks of NCDs.

  • Increasing Eateries and Franchised Fast Food Outlets in Nigeria: Implications for Food Safety Amid COVID-19 Pandemic – Dr A.O. Obadina, Food Safety Expert, Acting Head, Department of Food Science and Technology, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta and a Member of the Board of Directors of the International Union of Food Science and Technology, IUFoST.  

The concept of fast food retailing, also known as quick service restaurants practically exploded in Nigeria about 14 years ago led by UAC, which had been in this space for several decades from the days of Kingsway Stores in the 60s. The Southwest of Nigeria alone now boasts of about 500 eateries and franchised fast food outlets, of different sizes, many of which are located in malls and can be classified as standardized eateries. The Eateries and Franchise businesses are one line of business that have kept going and remained sustainable, despite the challenges of the covid-19 pandemic. Currently, although there is no evidence that animals or foods of animal origin can transmit the COVID-19 virus to humans, there is however, the need to prevent contamination in the food chain in order to reduce foodborne illnesses and reduce the likelihood of the emergence of novel diseases such as COVID-19.

Even legally traded wildlife products can be safe for consumption if safe food handling and preparation practices are complied with. In ensuring food safety in QSRs amid covid-19, all Eateries and Franchised Fast Food Outlets (FFFOs) should be made to strictly follow the protocols of Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) i.e. HACCP Principles, maintain regular hand washing of food handlers, maintain physical distancing, and proper use of PPEs. After safe purchase and compliance with all safety protocols, it is clear today that the most neglected area is the safe handling of food especially in the back-end and quality consciousness of the staff engaged in these facilities. Scrubbing of food items like fruits and vegetables is essential if they are not to be cooked for longer periods or to be eaten uncooked. For canned foods, the lids should be wiped before opening, while ensuring proper cleaning of cooking utensils. Needless to add the importance of respecting standard cooking protocols to ascertain food safety and avoiding a false sense of security by following proper cooking time, temperature and thawing protocols.

Speakers’ Concluding Notes

Food safety is an urgent public health issue that must be given attention in the at the three levels of government and especially at the household level. People need to be conscious of proper handling and storage practices, and the need for maintaining recommended cooking temperatures, whilst consumers must avoid keeping cooked foods meant for consumption for long in vehicles for safety or even overnight without proper refrigeration – Dr. Augustine Okoruwa

It is important to address the issues of consumers knowing the nutritional composition of the foods they consume. Part of the responsibility of the operators must be to ensure that the nutritional contents of the foods served in their QSR outlets are made known to consumers in form of nutrition facts and labels. In addition, consumer education & awareness needs to be increased to ensure that they know the amount of nutrients they are required to consume per day and how they can make healthier food choices. Departments of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition in tertiary institutions need to carry out periodic analysis on different foods and publish their findings for the benefit of the public. Also, apart from ensuring that the right quality staff are recruited and there is strict quality control in such facilities, food handlers and key players in the food service industry need to be periodically trained to ensure that safe foods are served for human consumption – Prof. W.A. Afolabi

It is clear, according to the slogan of the World Health Organization, that Food Safety is everyone’s business. In addition to issues of microbial hazards, chemical and mycotoxin hazards should also be given significant consideration. Many people are seen consuming mouldy foods which could pose a serious foodborne illnesses to them. In addition, there is need to address the issue of using or consuming foods high in trans-fatty acids – Dr A.O. Obadina

CAFSANI’s Concluding Notes – Prof Olugbenga Ogunmoyela

These discussions must continue beyond here until we bring back the discipline of the old days where the LGAs were impactful and there was order, discipline and the commitment to doing things right in this sector. CAFSANI has positioned itself to be the Voice of Consumers in this regard, knowing that it is a huge responsibility because food is one of the necessities of life.

We have identified that poor compliance is one of the major issues today as many of these restaurants who belong to the food service and hotel industries known as HORECA (the term usually applied to operators of hotels, retail food service outlets, eateries and catering service associations) do not even follow batch production systems again. Many of them have been found to prepare foods in bulk for warming all day long contrary to standard operating procedures, which require fresh foods to be served at all times.

Consumer education can no longer be solely the responsibility of government, in fact, because food safety is everyone’s business, it must now also be the responsibility of every stakeholder including the operators to give nutritional information on foods served in QSRs. All the issues already identified by CAFSANI need to be addressed, if we are to restore sanity to the sector and arrest the dangers to the consumer of allowing the current trend of indiscipline to continue.

CAFSANI will therefore engage the Federal Ministry of Environment (statutorily responsible for supervising the LGA Health Authorities), the Federal Ministry of Health, as well as NAFDAC, to find out if there is need to extend the mandate of the latter in this regard or find alternative ways of addressing these concerns. It is clear that there is no one taking serious responsibility for this sector presently and consumers in Nigeria are therefore at grave risk. Despite the fact that consumers are paying more, they are getting so little in return and when any problem arises, they cannot get even justice.

Therefore, CAFSANI as a Voice is determined to take these issues up and ensure that everybody rises to their responsibilities of ensuring that the consumer is better protected in this environment and uphold the old values of paying attention to food safety ensuring that consumers are aware of what they are consuming. In fact, the need to take defaulting operators to the law courts to assert consumer rights may become an avoidable tool in the quest for ensuring Healthy Food Choices for the consumer, as this has become a very important topic of discussion in the world today. 

On this note, CAFSANI appreciated the speakers for their very insightful presentations and thanked everyone of the participants in the webinar. It showed a strong commitment with the promise that the communique will reach various organs of  government and the industry, including HORECCON, FCCPC, Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Environment and as much as possible, the general public if we are to enhance food safety in our prevailing food supply system. The Press in particular will be a very close ally in this regard as the”Fourth Estate of the Realm”, using their inherent capacity for advocacy for the benefit of the consumer in promoting this webinar series.

The next in the CAFSANI webinar Series is scheduled for Friday, 16th October 2020 at 11.00 am and will be on the subject of Genetically Modified Foods: The Science, Nutrition and Safety in Nigeria. Needless to say that the combined actions taken within this landscape will ultimately enhance us, make healthier foods more available to consumers and ensure that people across all age groups benefit from it at the end of the day.