Food quality is the quality characteristics of food that is acceptable to consumers. Food fraud is a well-documented crime, and the quality requirements for food are rapidly increasing. An important stepping-stone to monitor and guarantee high-food quality is tracking all elements through the complete production chain, from the base material overall processing steps to the final wholesale and retail. Furthermore, the food production and processing environments in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are deteriorating.

In Ghana, urban, peri-urban and increasingly rural households are becoming more reliant on unhealthy, ultra-processed food from the formal food and retail system. This situation has been attributed largely to rapid urbanisation. In many Sub-Saharan African countries, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) cause more than 50% of all reported adult deaths. In Ghana, that figure was 44% in 2015 and continues to increase. Ghana has published a national NCD prevention policy and accompanying strategy to solve this increasing burden, recognising crucial interventions to promote healthy foods.

Recent indications from local policymakers in Ghana indicate that tackling unhealthy food production and improving food processing would be the most likely actions to address the associated effects of unhealthy foods, such as obesity and NCD risk factors, especially in children and adolescents. These policymakers, however, acknowledge that food environment-related responses to NCD prevention are hampered by scarce resources, lack of data from the value chain for decision-making, and lack of appropriate technological interventions and monitoring in Ghana. In Ghana, monitoring is done by governmental bodies, i.e., the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) and a few retail outlets.

Studies in Ghana have shown that food items such as groundnut paste, palm oil, honey, fish, spices, pepper tomato powder and processed products whose composition has been compromised are found in the Ghanaian market. Most of these products are not labelled. Some of them have not passed certification but are on the market. This incidence of food fraud increases risks to public health, hampers quality assurance programs, and removes the consumer’s ability to make informed food choices. Food fraud is more hazardous than traditional food safety risks, as potential adulterants are unconventional, and current intervention and preventive systems are not looking for these.

The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) in Ghana has since been inspecting and impounding such sellers of the products across the country to avoid widespread health implications. Despite the FDA's efforts, there are concerns about how consumers can detect adulterated products on the market. There is, therefore, increasing demand for rapid detection techniques.

Recent indications from local policymakers in Ghana indicate that tackling unhealthy food production and improving food processing would be the most likely actions to address the associated effects of unhealthy foods.

The value chain monitoring is also very comparable in many Sub-Saharan African countries. If available, it is performed by governmental agencies or sales channels (large retail chains), often with proprietary and closed solutions. The absence of capable detection technologies is one of the conditions that favour many forms of food fraud.

Stakeholders within or associated with the food industry need rapid, user-friendly methods to detect fraud and contamination. Some available techniques are mainly static, time-consuming and retrospective. However, the ideal technologies should be fast, portable, targeted and predictive. Mobility in handheld devices, smartphone apps, the Internet of Things (IoT) and remote sensors is necessary. It would be greatly appreciated by stakeholders if technologies for rapid food fraud or quality detection were developed to help combat food fraud and thus improve food and nutrition security, especially in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Article submitted by Eric Tchao


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.