One of the key issues constantly at the forefront of African discussions is the concept of food security. With constant threats to food sources, such as political unrest, use of obsolete technology and farming methods as well as the decline of the agricultural sector in favor of industry, scarcity of food remains an all too real looming horror.
In Kenya, the Director of Meteorological Services recently provided a grim reminder of how delicate the food situation is, with the announcement of an impending drought likely to hit many parts of the country between October and December, owing to decreased rainfall. As the affected areas rush to stockpile food, the recently concluded 5th African Grain Summit, held in Mombasa, hosted a debate on the disastrous effects of consumption of food contaminated with various toxins during storage.
The question of proper food storage and transportation is one that is highly relevant to us in the supply chain management industry. From the moment we receive food stuff into our warehouses for transportation, keeping food viable becomes our top priority. Were we to fail to ensure this, the consequences would be devastating. Consuming tainted food has been linked to various cancers, organ failure, or more bizarre ailments such as the “nodding disease” in Uganda or outright psychosis as a consequence of ergot poisoning.
Food received for freighting can be divided into three main categories, the first being dry foodstuffs, often being transported for long distances as relief aid or in food donation initiatives. Perishables, such as meat or milk come second with the third being “live” food, such as animals being transported in bulk to slaughterhouses.
Since majority of contaminating agents come into contact with our food during storage, it is essential that we make every effort to control the process. Where shared warehouses are used, it is vital to ensure that they have been properly cleaned, up to standards established as internationally acceptable. The structures themselves must also be regularly inspected, before and after the food is moved in, to guarantee that no new threats to the viability of the food are introduced, for instance the occurrence of pests. It is also important to have the storage areas well ventilated where possible, to deter the growth of detrimental, opportunistic fungi, especially where cereals and grains are involved.
When it comes to warehousing food prior to transit, getting the exact conditions needed is key. With dry foods, the priority is usually to keep them in cool, dry places, separate from any contaminants that could potentially leak into them and cause future consumers harm, such as cleaning products, cosmetics and the like. Perishables require much more precise conditions, taking into account concerns such as maintaining correct temperatures, since a short lapse can allow growth of problematic bacteria such as E. Coli.
The same holds true in transit as well. Freighting of livestock or live seafood for slaughter at a secondary location is a taxing but necessary endeavor that needs to ensure animals arrive in good health. In most countries, it is also necessary to abide by animal rights laws and policy, to ensure the most humane conditions are provided during the journey. Here, hygiene is a top priority to avoid exposing these animals to infections, or transmitting zoonotic diseases to those handling the live cargo.
Once the goods are at their respective locations, handling the delivery is also crucial to ensuring the food remains qualified for human consumption. Damaging of packaging during the offloading process can expose the carefully shipped goods to contaminants within the new storage location, thus negating all efforts made to keep the food in pristine condition.
When distribution of these foodstuffs has been carried out, the onus is now on you, as the consumer to maintain the standards set by ensuring proper storage and timely consumption of the goods. As we join hands in facing the looming famine and drought, the supply chain management industry asks that you honor the work invested in getting it to your table, avoid wastage of scarce food resources, and do what you can to help your fellow Kenyans in the trying time to come.