Improving food safety through irradiation technology: GAEC’s contribution

Today marks World Food Safety Day. It is observed annually on June 7 to remind global citizens of food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism, and sustainable development through the prevention, detection, and management of food contamination.

Food safety does not only contribute to preventing sicknesses and deaths caused by disease-causing organisms but also bars improper food quality control during food processing.

Additionally, it has reduced to its barest minimum, the environmental contamination, misuse of agricultural chemicals, and the use of unapproved food additives.

In Ghana, there is a growing awareness of food safety, hence citizens are mindful of street food and additives to food. Consequently, food safety has become central in public health, food security, and trading at the international level.

It is imperative to note that safety systems for improving food safety rely on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), as well as nuclear techniques.

Over the years, the traditional methods of preservation, such as drying, smoking, and salting have been supplemented with pasteurization, canning, and refrigeration, freezing, and chemical preservatives.

However, one such method of food preservation is nuclear techniques which support the development and use of food irradiation according to international norms. It promotes the use of nuclear and related methods to verify food authenticity and measure agrochemical (pesticide and veterinary drug residue) levels in food.

Food irradiation is a technology that enhances food quality and reduces the risk of contamination. Food irradiation is used on a commercial scale for controlling spoilage, destroying disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, and controlling insect pests. This technology can be used in post-harvest treatment to extend the shelf life without affecting the safety, nutrition, or quality of food.

Food irradiation is a technology that enhances food quality and reduces the risk of contamination. Food irradiation is used on a commercial scale for controlling spoilage, destroying disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, and pests controlling.

This technology can be used in postharvest treatment to extend the shelf life without affecting the safety, nutrition, or quality of food.

Food irradiation is a proven technology that has the potential for enhancing food quality in Ghana. Why has this technology not been explored to its fullest, even though it bears so much potential for food security?

The Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) is mandated to carry out commercial, research, and development activities for the socio-economic advancement of Ghana.

As a nuclear research institution, it oversees the safe application of nuclear techniques such as food irradiation. A technology, BNARI has helped the food industry with and still doing.

More than 100 years of research have gone into the safe and effective use of irradiation (radiation processing) as a food safety method, more than any other technology used in the food industry today.

Owing to this, international bodies including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Codex Alimentarius have commended the process.

More than 50 countries have approved over 60 products to be irradiated. The USA, China, The Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, Thailand, and Australia are among the leaders in adopting the technology. Ghana is opportune amongst a few sub-Saharan African countries to have this technology.

The applications of food irradiation include sprouting inhibition (bulbs and tubers), inactivation of parasites (meat, fresh-cut salads), insect control (pulses, cereals, dry fish), inactivation of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella or E. coli (seafood, meat, and poultry, refrigerated or frozen) and shelf-life extension (ready-to-eat meals, some fruit, and vegetables).

For example, Phytosanitary irradiation is being used in India to effectively process mango for export to the USA. The irradiation process ensures that no invasive insect pests reproduce upon reaching their destination.

In Latin America, Mexico is leading the way with the irradiation of large volumes of mangoes, citrus, guava, and peppers. After irradiation, these fruits are exported to the USA without alternative postharvest quarantine measures which could be harmful.

In addition to the environmental benefit derived from irradiation, this process enhances trade and has a positive social impact on farmers, industries, and employment.

Food irradiation helps to make food safer, protects crops, and helps secure international trade of plant products. Therefore, to be highly competitive in the international market there is also the need for government to put systems in place to wholly adopt food irradiation technology as a food safety method.

Furthermore, there is a need to establish public-private partnerships to invest in irradiation facilities for food preservation.

By: Mr. Stanley Acquah

The writer is a Principal Technologist at the Radiation Technology Centre of the BNARI at GAEC


Strengthening the Capacity of Member State Partner Institutions Through Fellowships

Sheila Frimpong, from Ghana, joined the IAEA’s Division of Programme Support and Coordination (TCPC) in October 2018 for a six month fellowship. Sheila is the first fellow to join TCPC and comes from the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission where she holds the position of Project Development Manager. Her fellowship focuses on building skills in communication, outreach and partnership that can benefit her home institution on her return.

Experience and lessons learned: How a fellowship with the TC communication team is improving my career development

By Sheila Frimpong

Working as a technology transfer and communication officer at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), my role demands an extensive set of communication and outreach skills. This personal story explains how my fellowship with the IAEA’s Department of Technical Cooperation’s communication team is preparing me for more complex tasks in technology transfer and communication, and expanding my perspective about how I work in my home country.

Reporting to work on one winter morning at the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, I was shown to my desk with all the necessary logistics for effective work and provided with a structured orientation in the first week. The space to innovate and grow was thus created for me on the first day of work. Settling at my desk, I noticed something unusual: all office doors are left open irrespective of rank or position. I also noticed staff walking to and fro outside my office. I asked my office colleague what was going on, with staff running all over the place. She told me – they are picking up their printing to start their activities for the day. I said to myself wow! I have a lot to learn. Here, people are expected to look after their own needs – there’s no-one around to pick up things for them. Then came 17:00, finishing time, but my office colleague was not ready to leave for me to follow as a newcomer. Stepping out of my office, I noticed that many staff were still glued to their desk as if the day had just started. It was then I realised that I was in fact in a different work environment, and that adjusting to the new work approach was critical and necessary. So, there was a lesson for me on the very first day – I would have to be transparent as a manager of my own work and build on my time and results consciousness.

During my fellowship, I have attended a series of training programmes on communication, presentation skills, sustainability and nuclear technology transfer. I have come to the realisation that it takes tri-sector leadership to build innovative solutions. Thus, at the IAEA, different stakeholders including sister UN agencies are regularly invited to share their experiences, challenges and lessons in pursuing a course of action. I’ve learned how all the Departments in an organization can work together to drive change, especially as it relates to the transfer of technology and the involvement of many actors.

My fellowship with the technical cooperation communication team has given me a unique opportunity for one-on-one and hands-on field experience. Prior to the start of the fellowship I had little experience in conducting communication audits, developing factsheets, and writing success stories. Also, I had not been exposed to an international working environment. With regular hand-holding support from my supervisor and the larger communication team, attendance at weekly meetings and participation in workshops to witness presentations by my supervisor, my level of confidence in my communication abilities, public speaking and presentation skills has improved tremendously. In addition, I have gained practical experience in developing communication strategies and improved my skills in proposal writing.

Working in a multi-cultural environment and improving my cultural competencies has been one of my biggest take-aways during the fellowship. I am now able to relate in a more professional and confident manner with experts with different cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic status.

Above all, I have had a transformative international experience, seeing the world of work from a different organizational setting. I will put this to use when I return to GAEC. As a result of the diverse skills gained during my fellowship, I am more than confident of my ability to pursue my career in a multi-cultural environment and to make the maximum impact on society with the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

I can also see how I can leverage my skills and experience to benefit other African countries. In addition to my expertise in marketing, I now know I can contribute to any communication related activity, particularly developing communication strategies for African countries and the world at large.

Indeed, my fellowship has facilitated my personal and professional development and has positioned me to address one of the most complex challenges in scientific institutions: putting cutting edge nuclear technology to the service of industry and society.


DG’s Welcome Address: Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review Mission – Phase 1


Mr. Chairman

Dr. Nii Moi Thompson, CEO of NDPC

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency

GNPPO Board members

Chief Executive Officers and Institutional Reps.

Directors of Various Institutes

Representatives from the various stakeholder Organisations

Friends from the media

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;

It is a great honor and privilege for me to welcome you to the opening ceremony of Ghana’s phase 1 Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission. Let me use this opportunity, on behalf of Ghana and the Ghana Nuclear Power Programme Organisation, to extend my warm welcome to the team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency and all participants.

The goal of this IAEA coordinated International peer review is to conduct a holistic evaluation of Ghana’s nuclear infrastructure on the basis of 19 Infrastructure issues of NPP development and subsequently provide suggestion and recommendations to fill gaps that may exist.

It is worth noting that Ghana satisfied a preceding requirement of conducting and submitting a self-evaluation report (SER) to the IAEA.

Mr. Chairman, we satisfied this requirement with serious focus on the quality of the Self Evaluation Report and the active involvement of all relevant stakeholder organisations. It is gratifying to note that as a country, we were far advanced with the assessment of our 19 infrastructure issues when we made an official request to the IAEA on 3rd December 2015 to carry out the Phase 1 integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review Mission (INIR).

I am very happy to inform you that Ghana had a preliminary INIR mission from August 8 to August 10, 2016 and we are hopeful that the general conclusions and recommendations from the IAEA experts would make this main mission a better one.

The IAEA team of experts will give a briefing on the mission implementation and agenda at the opening session and there would be discussions and interviews between and among IAEA experts and GNPPO stakeholder representatives for each of the nineteen (19) infrastructure issues.

Mr. Chairman, may I assure participants that there would be long sessions that will require total commitment and attention and these will culminate in the exit meeting where results and recommendations would be discussed.

Mr. Chairman, it is a well-known fact that a large number of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity, and for those that have access, reliability, sustainability and cost issues have become very compelling. Indeed, almost every problem facing a developing nation is also an energy access problem: agriculture, health, education, lack of productive industries for economic growth among others.

Ghana’s growing energy demand, worsened by rapid population growth, industrialization and major infrastructural development, requires a comprehensive assessment of our energy infrastructure, available energy sources and how they could be exploited in the short, medium and long-term.

Our quest to find a lasting solution to our energy problems has brought into perspective nuclear energy and our first President’s vision on energy. Our focus on the United Nation’s sustainable development goal seven (7) which emphasises access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all and indeed the effect sustainable energy would have on the other goals cannot be gainsaid.

The revitalization of our first President’s vision of exploiting nuclear energy for electricity generation started with the setting up of a Presidential Committee in 2007 known as the Adjei Bekoe Committee, which was tasked to advice government on the potential use of nuclear energy for electricity generation in Ghana.

Mr. Chairman, the compelling and instructive conclusions of the Committee’s report, which led to Cabinet’s decision in 2008 to include nuclear energy into Ghana’s energy mix, are:

  1. A decision by the country to explore nuclear energy for electricity generation would be natural progression in the country’s technological advancement;
  2. The introduction of nuclear power in Ghana’s fuel supply mix will improve our energy security and would be vital in sustaining the energy requirements of a middle income economy.

The Committee also recommended the setting up of a Presidential Commission on Nuclear Power Development (PCNPD) to prepare a draft Nuclear Power Policy and terms of reference for the additional technical and financial feasibility studies; the establishment of a legal framework and regulatory body; accedence to international agreements relating to non-proliferation, physical protection, nuclear safety and security as well as civil liability regime.

Mr. Chairman, it is gratifying to note that the government of Ghana subsequently set up Ghana’s NEPIO, Ghana Nuclear Power Programme Organisation. The government passed a comprehensive nuclear law, NRA Act, 2015 (Act 895) which preceded the establishment of an independent regulatory authority. Ghana, with the help of GNPPO’s legal stakeholder institutions and with the support of the IAEA, has acceded to a lot of international conventions and instruments in connection with non-proliferation, physical protection, nuclear safety, and security.

We know as a nation we can, and must pursue all the possible energy sources that are affordable, sustainable and reliable, while paying attention to carbon emissions and climate change concerns.

We are aware of the tremendous effort required, and the large investment costs and human capacity building but we are encouraged by the vision of our first President, the commitment of our governments and the enthusiasm and industry of our NEPIO, the jobs we will create, the foreign investment we will send to rural areas and the contribution we will make to reducing climate change. I dare say we simply cannot disappoint with the second opportunity to add Nuclear energy to our energy mix, after the efforts of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah our first President.

It is important to state our commitment to safety, security and safeguards requirements and for which reason the IAEA’S methodology of covering 19 key infrastructure issues, in 3 phases and with 3 milestones, is critical to us.

Mr. Chairman let me refer to a quote from Jessie Owens: “We all have dreams but in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” It is the industry and tiring efforts of the GNPPO and NPI that has brought as this far. We acknowledge every member of the GNPPO for their individual and collective efforts that have made this dream a reality. Vince Lombardi, a former American footballer said “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary”. This quote has indeed found a practical meaning.

Mr. Chairman, when people have worked so hard, it is difficult to find words to encourage them to do more but I have found one; perseverance!!! That is what will take us to the finishing line and what posterity will cherish.

Before I conclude, may I express our appreciation to the IAEA and their experts for their support and to encourage Ghana’s NEPIO to continue with the good work. Much appreciations to our sponsors: the Volta River Authority, Environmental Protection Agency, Tropical Cable and Conductor Ltd, Asanko Gold Gh. Ltd Project, Berock Ventures Ltd, Ghana Chamber of Mines, Engineering Services Providers Co. Ltd and Cornerstone Capital Advisors Ltd.

Finally, on behalf of Ghana and the Ghana Nuclear Power Programme Organization, I welcome you all to Ghana’s first Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission. I wish you all fruitful discussions and look forward to having outcomes that will help propel us into the next phase of the programme.

Thank you for your attention.