New fishing technique improves health safety of African fish processors

Improved design took five years and has been a hit with female workers, particularly in Côte d'Ivoire

By Moushumi Sharma
Published: Wednesday 25 February 2015

The new technology uses less fuel and reduces the carcinogenic contaminants produced during smoking fish

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has pioneered a new fish-drying technology to improve food safety in West African villages. The easy-to-assemble technology is aimed at reducing health hazards faced by the fishing community.

According to an FAO report, smoked fish is a vital source of food and income for many coastal families. Besides its nutritional benefits—smoked fish is a protein alternative—it is preferred because of its taste, competitive prices compared to other protein sources such as meat, fish and eggs, and long shelf life, which ranges from three to six months. However, traditional smoking techniques that have been in practice pose health threats.

“The current practice of cooking smoked fish often involves a massive burning of wood which leads to a variety of problems. An exorbitant amount of carbon dioxide is produced, so the kilns produce more greenhouse gas pollution than they should. Moreover, traditional smoking releases contaminants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic and hazardous to the human respiratory system,” Yvette Diei-Ouadi, a fishery industry expert at FAO, says in a press release. Traditional techniques also leave higher amounts of tar particles on the final product.

Smart technology for safe food

These dangers prompted FAO to invent a new technology that is especially designed to help small-scale fish processors prepare and market safe and high-quality food. Called the FAO-Thiaroye Processing Technique, or FTT, the technology consists of a dual functioning oven and mechanical drier, which also act as a storage unit.

The final product took five years of design improvements, but the end result is impressive. The new technology makes it easy to upgrade traditional ovens and is capable of significantly slashing the carcinogenic contaminants produced during smoking, the report says. It also uses less fuel and provides a load capacity five times greater than traditional barrel ovens.

“This is a system developed to address many aspects of fish-smoking operations. In the first place stands the safety aspect—to secure consumers’ health and meet international food standards.

Then there is reducing post-harvest losses and also curbing the drudgery of fish processors who are now least exposed to the heat and smoke,” says FAO official Ndiaye Oumoulkhaïry who worked on the FTT design.

Boon for women

The technology has been a hit, especially among female fish processors. For example, in Abobodoumé, a village in Côte d'Ivoire, workers particularly liked a collection plate in the new design that traps dripping fish oils. This can be reused for manufacturing soap or as cooking oil.

They are also glad to be breathing in far less contaminants. “We are now working under hygienic conditions. The technology ensures less heat, burn and smoke exposure. Smoking operations no longer pose risk to our eyes and respiratory system,” says Micheline Dion Somplehi, a woman fish processor in Abobodoumé. An estimated 20-30 per cent of local marine and freshwater fish is consumed in smoked form in Côte d'Ivoire, according to FAO.

An improved technology also means shorter processing time, which gives the women more scope to look after their families. “We have seen the advantage of saving time in fish smoking, and this is really important because in our communities, women are at the same time engaged in household chores such as taking care of the children and working in the kitchen,” says Dion Somplehi, another female worker.

Besides Côte d'Ivoire, FTT is gaining popularity in other African nations, including Senegal, Tanzania and Ghana. 

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