One of the pieces of uncovered cow hide, known locally as “wele”, fell off the table and landed straight into the choked gutter. She quickly picked it up; dipped it in water and placed it back, fully convinced that no one had seen her.
Just a stone’s throw away stood a number of butchers, most of whom were bare chested, holding machetes and slicing the beef.
A few metres ahead, another woman watched on as flies hovered over her sliced watermelon.
Other fruits and vegetables such as cabbage, tomatoes, oranges, lettuce, carrots were sold in conditions that would amount to signing the death warrant for unsuspecting members of the public.
The bragging rights as to who sold their food items or food under the most unhygienic conditions got keener as I made my way through other parts of the Agbogbloshie Market.
A number of fishmongers also displayed their wares on pans that were placed on the floor while passersby meandered their way through the cluster of pans.
Both mobile and stationary food vendors sold their wares with very little regard for the surroundings they were in. All they cared about was to have some space that could attract buyers.
This situation is a worrying phenomenon not only in the Agbogbloshie Market but in other well-known markets in the capital city where foodstuffs are sold. Other markets such as Kaneshie, Mallam, London and Odawna are examples.
GSA code on food vending
The sale of food and foodstuff in untidy environment is in clear violation of the Ghana Standards Authority’s (GSA) code for the sale of food on the street. The code spells out three critical areas of concern.
These are the locations where food ought to be sold, the type of people who should sell food and the processes under which foods are to be prepared.
The GSA code states that the location for the sale of food ought to be in areas which are free from open gutters, refuse dump, smoke, dust or other contaminants. It further requires that the roads to and from areas serving the food should have adequate drainage.
According to the GSA guidelines, the living quarters, toilets and areas where animals are kept ought to be completely separated from food handling areas. More to this, the code requires that adequate ventilation be provided to prevent excessive build up of heat, steam condensation and dust to remove contaminated air.
The GSA code requires people who handle food to be trained and made to undergo medical examination every six months while strict supervision must also be done to ensure that such vendors put on suitable protective clothing, including head cover and foot-wear.
The processing of food, raw materials or ingredients stored ought to be maintained under conditions that will prevent spoilage and contamination while water used for washing utensils, food and hands should not be kept for reuse.
Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 600 million – almost one in 10 people in the world, fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420, 000 die every year.
In April, 2014, the management of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital sent a distress call to the city authorities to stop food vendors from selling food and water under unhygienic conditions in Accra.
The call followed an outbreak of cholera in areas such as Agege, Chorkor, Korle Gonno, James Town, Kokomba Market and Agbogbloshie with about 7,800 cases recorded and more than 50 deaths.
What are the city authorities doing about the situation?
The Public Health Department of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) has the responsibility of ensuring that all food vendors meet the safety requirement to sell.
However, checks at the Agbogbloshie Market, for instance, showed that some of the food vendors have not gone through any health examination to make them qualified to sell to the public.
Also, the GSA code has not been strictly enforced as evident in the number of food vendors who sell close to filthy open gutters and heaps of refuse.
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of AMA, Mr Gilbert Nii Ankrah, stressed that the sale of food in unhygienic condition would not be countenanced by the city authorities.
He added that in line with the government’s agenda to rid the city of filth in a bid to make Accra the cleanest city in Africa, a robust enforcement exercise would be carried out to clamp down on those who sold in unhygienic conditions.
While the AMA is called upon to up its game, it is important as individuals to be careful about what we eat and where we get what we eat.