Experts have put together a document with steps to help stakeholders manage food safety risks in traditional markets.

The report contains guidance on the promotion of safe and healthy food in traditional markets in the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region. This involves identifying food safety issues, deciding on priorities for improvements, finding interventions, developing an action plan, implementing interventions and monitoring performance.

The target audience is stakeholders at these sites, including local policymakers and market management authorities, health and food safety experts and academics, local community leaders, market vendors and workers.

Such markets are important sources of food for millions in the WHO European Region but they have also been associated with foodborne and zoonotic outbreaks, including COVID-19. This WHO region includes 53 countries while only 27 nations are in the European Union.

Factors to consider
Establishing and maintaining a safe traditional food market depends on the state of it in terms of location, layout, facilities and equipment; risk-based inspection and enforcement services; food hygiene and training of market vendors; preparation and cooking practices of ready-to-eat (RTE) food; food safety awareness among workers and customers; effective emergency response plans; and the ability of governments and market authorities to make the best use of existing resources, according to the report.

There is a recognition that markets are diverse in terms of organization, layout and food supply, and countries have different ways to address food safety issues.

To prevent the spread of infectious diseases in traditional markets, workers and the public need to be aware of recommended personal hygiene practices such as frequent cleaning and disinfection of work surfaces, and avoiding contact with live animals and potentially contaminated surfaces.

In 2010, an estimated 23 million people fell ill, and 4,700 died, from consuming contaminated food in the WHO European Region.

Some markets are permanent with fixed locations but others are temporary and set up on an ad-hoc basis. In traditional markets, the food sold usually includes products like fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products and beverages. Many also sell a range of ready-to-eat foods.

The legal basis for safe food in traditional markets must determine the obligations for managing food safety and nutrition risks, define roles and responsibilities for stakeholders, adopt risk-based approaches, and allow for updates as circumstances change and new food issues emerge.

Example issues and mitigation measures
Short term action to minimize the risk of cross-contamination between live animals, RTE food and humans includes veterinary supervision of animal slaughter and separating areas for selling and slaughtering from those open to the public. Medium and long term steps include training and phasing out the sale and slaughter of live animals, according to the experts.

Sale of farmed wild and domestic live animals may be acceptable if animal health and welfare regulations, biosecurity measures, and food and meat hygiene standards are followed during production, processing and marketing.

Quick ways to improve management of food safety incidents and emergencies include developing and testing procedures for recalling and withdrawing potentially contaminated food. Longer term measures include food safety emergency response plans and procedures for communicating between vendors, market authorities and health agencies in cases of food safety incidents.

Short term action to address weak enforcement of regulatory requirements includes establishing a list of businesses in the market and categorize them according to food safety and non-compliance risk and creating an inspection record system to use as a basis for doing risk-based food inspections. Longer term steps are training programs for food and veterinary inspectors, according to the report.

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