The Public Health Act 2012, Act 851 and Food Businesses – Part I

I had the opportunity of training a group of people in the food industry recently, and they were amazed at their responsibilities towards consumers. This was as a result of a course I took them through which touched on the Public Health Act 2012, Act 851. What intrigued them most was the fact that, one can actually go to jail for selling unwholesome food to a consumer.

It was obvious though, that consumers themselves are not aware of Act 851 and hence accept any treatment meted out to them when they complain of one food incident or the other. It is my aim through this article to open the eyes of both Food business operators and consumers alike on what the law says and how it should be applied.

Food Business Operators

It is important to clarify who a Food Business operator is. Anyone who sells food on commercial basis can be classified as a food business operator. Under this umbrella are organizations that manufacture processed foods, be it in cans, plastics, jars or bottles. The rest are bottled and sachet water producers, restaurants, hotels, eateries of all forms and shapes, ice cream parlours, waakye sellers and everyone who sells food to the public including raw food sold by supermarkets.

When you talk to most food operators about their records of consumer complaints, there is one statement that pops up. “we don’t receive complaints”. When you ask consumers whether they’ve encountered any food incident like food poisoning, you’ll get many respond in the affirmative. The follow up question as to whether they reported back to the food operator on the incident, draws smiles. You’ll have over 90% responding in the negative. It is then obvious that, food operators are not receiving complaints because consumers are not reporting back to them!

 

It is likely that people are dying from food poisoning and the culprits are not even aware!

Some consumers also complain that, whenever they went back to complain, they are often met with hostile food operators who will even turn them away denying they were the cause of any such incident. I have personally encountered meat from the abattoir being offloaded from the back of a taxi into one of the major supermarkets on the Osu Oxford street. Of course I had to get the owners to return the taxi, but if only the taxi did not come back after I had left!

Public Health Act 2012, Act 851

It is important to note that the Food & Drugs Authority (FDA) was established by this same law. Before this Act, it was the Food & Drugs Act, 1992 (PNDCL 305B). This law has been incorporated into the Public Health Act, 2012 Act 851. There are specific sections under this Act, that is under the supervision of the FDA just to be clear which Authority is mandated to ensure compliance. Let’s take the relevant sections of the Act that refer to food and know what they contain. So wherever you see ‘the Authority’ it is referring to the FDA.

Registration of food (Section 99)

(1) A person shall not manufacture, import, export, distribute, sell or supply food or expose food for sale unless the Authority has registered the food.

(2) Subsection (1) does not prevent the importation of samples for purposes of registration of the food. (3) An application for the registration of a food shall be made to the Authority in the prescribed manner together with the prescribed application fees.

(4) The Authority shall register the food if it is satisfied that the food complies with the prescribed standards, and the manufacturing operations for the food complies with the prescribed current codes of good manufacturing practices.

(5) The Authority may charge fees to cover the cost of carrying out good manufacturing practice inspection or laboratory investigations in respect of the registration of a food.

(6) An application under subsection (3) may be withdrawn at any time by the applicant before registration, but the withdrawal does not entitle the applicant to a refund of the application fees and the samples submitted.

Cancellation or suspension of registration (Section 98)

(1) The Authority shall suspend or cancel a license issued under this Part if information submitted in respect of the registration changes or it is found to have been inaccurate.

(2) An applicant may at any time after suspension or cancellation of a registration re-submit new information on the food.

(3) A person responsible for the registration of the food who fails to inform the Authority of a change in the information submitted for its registration commits an offence.

(4) The Authority shall cancel an approval in respect of a registered food if it is not made available on the market after three years of registration.

Importation and exportation of food (Section 99)

(1) A person shall not carry on the business of an exporter or importer of food unless that person is registered by the Authority under this Part as an exporter or importer and has complied with the Regulations and Guidelines.

(2) The Authority shall keep and maintain in the prescribed manner a register containing

(a) the name of each registered exporter or importer of food;

(b) the date of registration;

(c) the kind of food in respect of which the exporter or importer is registered as an exporter or importer;

(d) the chemical composition, microbiological and physical status of the food the importer imports or the exporter exports;

(e) the certificate of analysis issued by the manufacturer and attested to by an authority of the importing or exporting country; and

(f) any other particulars determined by the Authority.

(3) The Chief Executive Officer shall as soon as is practicable proceed to consider the application and grant registration, if on receipt of an application for registration it is satisfied that

(a) the composition of the food proposed to be exported or imported is not of a standard below the specifications prescribed under this Part or the Regulations; and

(b) the food or its products and the practices related to the food or its products do not contravene a provision of this Part, the Regulations or Guidelines.

The three sections above go to tell us that, you cannot go into commercial production without registering your products. The District Assemblies and Metropolitan Authorities work hand in hand with the FDA to regulate the activities of wayside food vendors and these are typically the waakye and kenkey sellers and all those in that group. These group of food vendors are normally given permits by the district and metro assemblies after they’ve gone through the food handlers test.

The next time you stop at your favourite waakye or kenkey joint, ask the owner to produce the permit issued by the District Assembly or Metro Authority for all the workers at the joint. If you are reading this article, and you know you’re involved in any kind of commercial food activity, it is important you speak to the FDA or your district assembly to know which category you fall in, so you may get the necessary approval. We will discuss in detail very critical issues that food operators need to know and must comply with in subsequent sections of this law.

For consumers, it is your right to engage any food operator, be it in a restaurant, hotel or even processed food from a factory, if you have complaints to make. It is the responsibility of the food operator to listen to your complaints, investigate and compensate if need be. You have the alternative of falling on the FDA or the Metropolitan Authority to intervene if the food operator is not ready to take responsibility. In that case the law will take its course.

Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Executive Director & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality/Safety Management, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety) and can be reached on +233209996002, email: johnson@qaconsultgh.com.

BY: Johnson Opoku-Boateng

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