WHO commits to work with Govt to ensure food safety in TL

WHO commits to work with Govt to ensure food safety in TL

Representative of WHO in Timor-Leste, Arvin Mathur (Image Tatoli/Francisco Sony)

DILI, 07 june 2022 (TATOLI) – The World Health Organization (WHO) is committed to working with the government of Timor-Leste to ensure food safety and combat foodborne illnesses in Timor-Leste.

To commemorate the 4th World Food Safety Day, in Timor-Leste, the representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to Timor-Leste, Arvind Mathur said WHO will work with the government in five key areas to ensure Timorese people consume safe and healthy food.

“With the Ministry of Health (MoH, we want to work on several levels, including Food Safety Policy, Food Law and Regulations, Awareness Campaign on Food Safety, Capacity Building and Training, and National Food, and Nutrition Standards,” Mathur told Tatoli, in Dili.

Mathur said having a food safety policy is important to ensure that the imported food is safe and healthy: “You know 76% of food in Timor-Leste is imported. So, we can have a policy where we can only import food that is low in iron, trans fats, etc. So, we can have these standards to ensure we import safe and healthy food.”

He said working with AIFAESA and the National Health Laboratory (NHL) is needed to ensure testing facilities are available for food contamination testing, such as the test for detection of bacterial contamination, etc: “The food safety policy is essential for controlling the quality of food production in the country.”

Mathur explained that having a proper policy helps the AIFAESA and relevant authorities to carry out food safety inspections to ensure that the food served at any restaurant is safe and healthy.

“We need to ensure that our restaurants cook the food properly and safely and serve the customer with gloves and proper hand hygiene,” he said.

In addition, to food safety policy, Mathur also highlighted the importance of putting a Food Law in place, covering the regulation of food control, food safety, quality, and relevant aspects of food trade across the entire food chain, from the food production to consumption: “We will need to work with AIFAESA on legal bases like decree-law for food safety and import policy.”

Furthermore, WHO also pledged to cooperate with the Ministry of Health to raise the awareness of the public on food safety, including proper cooking practices, safe food storage, etc.

WHO also committed to supporting the Government of Timor-Leste in capacity building and training: “We want to cooperate with MoH to improve the capacity with the laboratory testing, not only for imported food but also the food which produced in Timor-Leste.

“Imported food can be injected with antibiotics and heavy metals. Thus, we need to strengthen the capacity of the Department of Toxic Quality of the National Health Laboratory,” Mathur emphasized. “I would say that we will be working with MoH for training and capacity building both for the department of the environmental health, and department of the nutrition as well as AIFAESA, so that we can address the issue on one side related to the food.”

Mathur added to ensure food safety in the country, WHO has planned to collaborate with the MoH on the draft of Timor-Leste’s National Food, and Nutrition Standards.

“We should have our standards and that is the work that will be collaboratively done through the Codex Alimentarius with MOH, and MAP,” he said.

He believed that once Timor-Leste has its Food, and Nutrition Standards, it may avoid importing unhealthy food items: “If we have our own standard and our own criteria that it would be important for us to work concerning drawing from the WHO standards, drawing from the FAO and we will be working through the Codex Alimentarius with both AIFAESA and MoH so that we have our food safety standards.”

Mathur highlighted that the country also needed Labeling of Food Products, saying the canned food and drinks imported from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea are in the foreign languages, which makes it difficult for Timorese people to understand the safety of the food and drinks.

He said overall progress has been made in food safety as there were areas of improvement in different stages of the food chain – From food production to consumption.

According to National Food Safety Strategy 2022-2025, around 200 illnesses are caused by unsafe food spread by bacteria, parasite viruses, and dangerous chemical substances as a result of unhygienic and unhealthy human behaviors.

The 2014-2018 report from the Department of the Epidemiology Surveillance in the National Directorate for Public Health within the Ministry of Health said a total of 413 cases of food poisoning or illness from contaminated food were recorded in the period.

Therefore, the collaboration between the WHO and MoH is crucial for the prevention and control of foodborne illnesses in the country.

In his commemorative message on World Food Safety Day, Mathur called on young people, students, and all the children to follow the proper steps to food safety.

“They need to keep the food safe and to make sure that they educate others as well. So that every one of us has safe food every day. We should consume food with confidence that it’s safe and it’s of course healthy. It would help us to control diseases and be healthy,” he explained.

The commemoration of the day began in 2019 and was initiated by the United Nations General Assembly on december 20, 2018.

World Food Safety Day is celebrated annually on 7 june to draw attention to and mobilize action to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks and improve human health, said WHO.


Journalist: Filomeno Martins 

Editor: Nelia Borges 


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