Meat is an essential component of everyday meal. A good number of people, globally, depend on meat for their daily consumption. In Ghana, consumption of meat has led to an annual increase of about 11 per cent in production since 1970 increasing from 79,589 to 298,559 tonnes by 2019.
The high demand, therefore, requires that its production goes through proper, rigorous hygienic processes to ensure that consumers eat meat that are free from bacteria, yeast, moulds (fungi) protozoa or viruses which are responsible for a wide range of diseases.
Effect of unhygienic processes
Research suggest that most outbreaks of foodborne illness result from the transfer of harmful microorganisms from meat to humans. There are numerous diseases that humans may contract from endogenously infected meat, such as anthrax, bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, salmonellosis, listeriosis, trichinosis, and taeniasis.
When pathogens (bacteria that cause disease) enter the food supply chain, they can cause foodborne illness which often present flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and fever. This may lead to more serious complications. Each year, an estimated 48 million people in the USA alone experience foodborne illnesses and these cause about 3,000 deaths there annually. The numbers could be more in sub-Saharan African, including Ghana.
There are prominent pathogens that are associated with meat and meat products that cause foodborne illness like fever, headache, muscle pain, diarrhoea (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, and nausea.
Research has found that hygienic handling of animal, before and after slaughter, are critical in preventing contamination and ensuring meat safety. To achieve this, a hygienic slaughterhouse is a prerequisite for meat production.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) explains that a well-planned, well-executed and controlled cleaning and sanitation programme for rooms, machines and equipment is very important to achieve a hygienic standard.
Adequate personal hygiene assures the overall cleaning process. Deterioration of the cleaning standard may occur if microorganisms are transmitted to well-cleaned surfaces from unwashed hands before processing starts.
They add that neither process hygiene, personal hygiene nor cleaning and sanitation alone can assure a sufficient hygienic standard but together, if carried out in an optimal manner, will guarantee a complete hygienic standard.
State of slaughterhouse in Ghana
The high slaughterhouse standard anticipated by FAO seem to be the reverse in Ghana.
A visit to the Suhum abattoir in the Suhum Municipality of the Eastern Region by the Environmental News Agency Ghana (ENA Ghana), last week, disclosed lack of needed basic infrastructure and equipment for a fairly decent slaughterhouse.
The place has no proper drainage system, no proper and regular supply of water facility, and was engulfed in filth. The unhygienic nature of the place, lack of proper drainage systems and lack of decently provided waste collection bins leave meat waste to stagnate creating a pungent smell which attract houseflies, rodents and stray dogs to scavenge.
The situation at the Suhum slaughterhouse is a microcosm of a huge challenge we have as a country. A visit to a typical slaughterhouse in Ghana would often be welcomed by a swarm of flies, thick spirogyra, and open drains with pungent smell from animal excreta. Last year, similar situation in parts of Ghana’s capital, Accra, forced the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to clamp down on illegal slaughterhouses.
Several attempts have been made to salvage the situation in some instances. However, such attempts have sometimes been met with resistance from the butchers. For instance, an old slaughterhouse, situated at the Bosoma Market in Sunyani, the Bono Regional Capital of Ghana, had inadequate water while animals were slaughtered on the floor, with a poor drainage system that leave the area emitting an offensive odour. However, a year after a new and improved one had been built, the butchers refused to move in with excuses such as the poor nature of the road to the area.
To ensure that slaughterhouses do not continue to become breeding grounds of diseases, it is recommended by the FAO that they should be situated away from residential areas; located in flood free areas and must have abundant supply of potable water as well as adequate facilities for treatment and disposal.
Additionally, the buildings should be constructed in a way that ensures that clean and unclean processes and products do not mix. The floor must be hard, smooth and impervious, sloping sufficiently towards a drain thus allowing cleaning with water.
It is further recommended that water points, hoses, sterilizers for hand tools etc. and cleaning equipment be provided in sufficient numbers. Where possible sterilizers should be supplied with hot water instead of chemical disinfectants. Sanitary facilities must also include a sufficient number of toilets/latrines and arrangements for hand-washing or even possibilities for bathing (showering). These facilities must be kept clean and well maintained.