Food safety through modernising the Mauritian Food Legislation Act

To protect the health of its people, as well as tourists and business travellers, Mauritius has made great strides in modernising its food control systems and legislation, protecting against sickness, disability and morbidity.

Australia Awards alumnus Yousouf Gaungoo has been front and centre of the move to update the country’s outdated Food Act 1988, which is no longer coping with emerging challenges and changes in the food industry. In doing so, Yousouf made a significant contribution in reviewing the two-decade old Act, identifying gaps in protecting food safety, including by applying food regulations against global standards.

‘This is about the safety of our people and the hundreds of thousands who come to Mauritius for business and tourism,’ says Yousouf who completed a Master of Food Science from the University of Melbourne in 2016. ‘Regulating the production, trading and handling of food against government standards is also imperative for economic growth and international trade.’

Upon his return home, Yousouf took on the role of Senior Public Health and Food Safety Inspector in the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life. As part of an eight-member team established to review the Food Act, Yousouf played a significant role in identifying and targeting food safety issues before formal examination of the two-decade-old legislation began.

The team’s work largely focused on introducing the most recent international standards for the level of bacterium in food.

One gap the team uncovered was managing food safety issues. ‘Trans-fat is increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases,’ says Yousouf. ‘We’re witnessing an increase in infection caused by bacterium with the microorganism growing at low temperature and contributing to high fatality rates.’

Another gap related to interpretation of law. ‘Diverging interpretations led to conflicting guidance on how to align our standards to global standards,’ says Yousouf. ‘The review therefore focused on  the needs of enforcing agencies, government policy and food business operators.’

Yousouf’s studies in Australia also equipped him with skills in food sampling procedures and knowledge on the importance of food additives in processed food, temperature control and heat treatment. He also built knowledge on how to use legal tools more efficiently and the rationale behind time limits for prosecution.

‘The skills and knowledge I gained in Australia empowered me to widen my approach, look at food safety holistically and apply a better understanding of the food safety framework governing our local context,’ says Yousouf. ‘After learning about Australia’s food safety system, especially food safety laws, I was in a stronger position to assess the Mauritian food legislation to identify opportunities and gaps.’

Yousouf proposed a new mechanism for using the legal tools in the Food Act to improve efficiency and reduce confusion. Recommended tools included Improvement Notices, Prohibition Orders, and Emergency Closing Orders.

Other review recommendations included improving food-sampling procedures to cover any contentions over laboratory results of food samples taken from business operators. They also included proposals for improved personal hygiene standards, pre-requisite training and medical screening for food handlers. Stiff measures were also recommended around preventing cross-contamination and ensuring extensive provisions around ensuring the safety of food sources.

‘The new amendments in the Food Legislation Act are expected to be submitted to the National Parliament for debate. Once enacted by Parliament, the new Act will support public health and food safety inspectors to enforce the law, ensure a safer food environment and build trust and confidence among the people and visitors to Mauritius,’ says Yousouf.

Photo Credit: Yousouf Gaungoo

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