By Erl Murati
Albania is increasing the number of inspections to identify street vendors whose food lacks required sanitary standards and is making some customers ill, officials said.
“In January 2014, hundreds of inspections were carried out throughout the country, and measures were undertaken against the entities that did not meet proper hygienic-sanitary conditions. We closed the fish market in Durres,” Florian Pullazi, head of risk management at the National Food Authority in Tirana, told SETimes.
The authorities undertook the measure following reports of food-related ailments from items bought on the streets. More than 400 people attending weddings reported suffering from food poisoning last year in Tirana, Fier and Shkodra. The European Commission acknowledged in its 2013 progress report that Albania has made some progress on improving food safety practices, but urged the country to take additional measures.
“In the area of general food safety, risk assessment capacity has still not been established although a first step was made by the decision of the agriculture ministry to set up a dedicated scientific committee,” the report said.
The Albanian government is now responding by also investing in the reconstruction of food markets and establishing a call centre to receive consumer complaints. Fish, red meat, vegetables and cheese are necessary for human consumption, but lack of proper hygienic and sanitary standards has made some items dangerous, said Hasan Stafa, director of the Office for Consumers Protection in Tirana.
“Only in the last four months, we received 193 complaints about fish, meat and dairy products sold in the streets. Nearly all are valid,” Stafa told SETimes.
Inspectors found at least 35 vendors did not meet the required hygienic and sanitary standards last month. Some consumers said they purchase food on the streets rather than in stores because of the substantially lower prices.
“A kilo of meat in the shop costs 900 lek (6.4 euros). I buy it for 600 lek (4.3 euros) at the cart which comes every Thursday in my neighbourhood,” Hatixhe Visha, 48, a housewife in Durres, told SETimes.
But Stafa said despite the lower prices, consumers may encounter two substantive problems.
“First, the origin of the products is not known and whether they have gone through the necessary controls. Second, they are sold in dusty conditions and close to sewers,” Stafa said.
By contrast, licenced food sellers in stores are required to meet hygiene and quality standards, though at a higher cost.
“We pay the government taxes and get fined for a single box that has expired. But others are allowed to sell fish on dusty streets and nobody has stopped them,” Flamur Qordja, who sells groceries at the new bazaar in Tirana, told SETimes.
Pullazi said the measures are a step in the right direction, but the National Food Authority is also asking other government institutions to increase co-operation to ensure a more efficient response in protecting public health.
“The municipal police and the economic anti-crime sector must [also] take measures against the entities that sell on the street,” Pullazi said.