The Namibian (Windhoek)

14 February 2013

Namibia: City Makes Do With Limited Health Inspectors

Last year, The Namibian reported two cases of trading of food which is either rotten or unfit for consumption. On December 6 2012, a front page article, exposing the sale of expired biscuits at the Black Chain complex in Katutura, was published.

In the same week, The Namibian Consumer ran an article on the sale of foul smelling fish at Tré supermarket in Independence Avenue which had no sell-by date tags. In addition, consumers sent countless SMSes asking that health inspectors visit shops which sell food which is unfit for human consumption.

We contacted the City Of Windhoek through it's Corporate Communications officer, Joshua Amukugo to find out where our health inspectors are and what exactly their roles are.

We were shocked to learn that only 26 inspectors; two for meat inspections and one dairy control inspector are employed by the city. The rest are general inspectors. This for a city of more than 300 000 inhabitants, most of who reside in informal settlements.

Roles and responsibilities

The roles of health inspectors includes eliminating health-related nuisances at work places, living areas and the environment, controlling and preventing infectious and communicable diseases, promoting personal hygiene, educating communities on environmental issues (refuse dumping, pollution etc), and the prevention of diseases as well as enforcing the Public Health Act. The health inspectors work according to an inspection schedule, based on both weekly and monthly inspections of food premises.

Running short

Amukugo acknowledged that the number is small for a city as big as Windhoek. He said, "amid growing expectations for institutions like the City of Windhoek to do more with less, the city is doing the best it can to promote and protect food safety, hygiene and public health in Windhoek with the minimum resources that we have at our disposal".

There are however plans underway to strengthen capacity in this regard, considering the just extended boundaries and more so the fact that Windhoek in general, and the business sector (the food industry) in particular is indeed growing at an alarming rate.

"It must be understood that strengthening capacity in this regard will have to follow due process as per city procedures, which might be a lengthy process", said Amukugo who also states that there are currently plans underway to strengthen capacity considering the recent extension of the city's boundaries and the alarming growth of the business sector (food industry) in particular.

He however added that this process will be lengthy.

Amukugo assured The Namibian Consumer that people who live in the informal settlements are covered by the work of the health inspectors.

"The city renders food safety and hygiene monitoring services to all its residents including those residing in informal settlements, with subsequent enforcement action where practicable and necessary. The City is divided into wards and each environmental health practitioner (health inspector) is allocated a ward as an area of their responsibility within which they perform duties as guided by the law, with the object of protecting public health", he said.

Penalties

Normally, the shop owner is notified of the issue and is requested to immediately remove the items in question otherwise, the inspectors confiscate all the goods. Cans are taken for laboratory testing which may take weeks to yield results. The shop owner could also as a result, be given a condemnation certificate, condemning all the food that should not be sold/put on the shelves. In the worst case scenario, the shop could be temporarily closed, and the court shall be approached for withdrawal of a licence.

Consumers are expected and advised to always check the sell-by dates and the expiry dates on the items. Upon discovery that a shop is selling expired food, they can contact the City's Emergency numbers: 061 302 302 and 061 411 111. Else, you may call 061 290 2690, 290 2568 or 290 2044.

Meanwhile, Amukugo informed us that the City has concluded the investigation on the sale of expired biscuits in Katutura and "corrective action' in this case was taken. He however refused to say what that "corrective action" was.

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