Potential food safety risks in tomato value chains in urban settings of Eastern Ethiopia: a qualitative investigation

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The value chains of tomatoes in Ethiopia are largely informal which may pose potential food safety risks.

Research by the Urban food markets in Africa project, led by the International Livestock Research Institute, mapped the tomato value chains in two major cities in eastern Ethiopia, Harar and Dire Dawa, to identify practices likely to result in unsafe food, considering production, transportation, retail, preparation and consumption.

The study findings are published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems (Dec 2023).

Qualitative methods were used to map the value chains to understand the flows, actors and practices.

Group discussions and key informant interviews were performed to better understand the processes, practices, beliefs and food safety risks in the value chains.

The two cities are supplied by two vegetable value chains: the first and larger being from distant producers in central Ethiopia, and the second from surrounding rural and peri-urban producers.

The long-distance value chains involve producers, brokers, transporters, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers.

The local producers, however, bring their fresh products directly to the cities without the involvement of value chain actors other than final retailers and consumers.

The study suggests microbiological contamination risks along tomato value chains, potentially including soil contamination, use of sewage-contaminated irrigation water, untreated manure, unhygienic handling and storage conditions and dirty contact surfaces during transportation and retailing.

Tomatoes are mostly harvested by hand picking, collected and sorted on the ground exposing to sunlight and physical bruising with potential contamination.

More importantly, tomatoes are widely consumed raw without a kill-step that certainly contributes to food-borne infections.

Suggestions by study participants for improving food safety and hygiene include funding toward improved infrastructure and facilities in the sectors, supporting value chain actors with improved technology for quality production, and increasing awareness of good and hygienic practices.

Consumers were particularly concerned about contamination with agrochemicals without much emphasis on the potential microbial contaminants.

Fresh tomatoes are prepared in a variety of ways and are often consumed raw or slightly cooked.

Further recommendations included using health extension workers to conduct awareness campaigns on improved food safety and hygienic practices.

The qualitative value chain mapping generated useful information for designing intervention strategies, especially targeting developing food safety interventions and an awareness communication campaign.

Amenu, K., Megersa, B., Jaleta, M.B., Dinede, G., Worku, H., Kasim, K., Taha, M., Ibrahim, A.M., Kedir, J., Mego, L., Roesel, K., Roothaert, R., Srinivasan, R., Grace, D. and Knight-Jones, T. 2023. Potential food safety risks in tomato value chains in urban settings of Eastern Ethiopia: a qualitative investigation. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems 7: 1254000.

Photo credit: Woman selling vegetables at a market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (East African Policy Research Institute/Birhanu Lenjiso)

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