Food-borne diseases kill an estimated two million people annually, including many children, in developing countries, the World Health Organisation said as people yesterday observed the World Health Day.
“Food contaminants, such as harmful parasites, bacteria, viruses, prions, chemical or radioactive substances, cause more than 200 diseases -- ranging from infectious diseases to cancers,” it said.
Food production has been industrialised and its trade and distribution have been globalised, said WHO Director General Margaret Chan in a statement.
“These changes introduce multiple new opportunities for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals,” he said.
The WHO coined the slogan "From farm to plate, make food safe," as the theme for this year's World Health Day.
Chan also said a local food safety problem could rapidly become an international emergency.
Investigation of an outbreak of foodborne disease is vastly more complicated when a single plate or package of food contains ingredients from multiple countries.
From an ongoing analysis of global burden of food-borne diseases of 2010, whose full results will be published in October this year, the WHO said there were an estimated 582 million cases of 22 different food-borne enteric diseases and 3,51,000 associated deaths.
The enteric disease agents responsible for most deaths were Salmonella Typhi (52,000 deaths), enteropathogenic E. coli (37,000) and norovirus (35,000).
The African region recorded the highest disease burden for enteric foodborne disease, followed by South-East Asia, which includes Bangladesh.
The report said over 40 percent people, suffering from enteric diseases caused by contaminated food, were children aged under five years.
Unsafe food also poses major economic risks, especially in a globalised world.
Germany's 2011 E coli outbreak reportedly caused $ 1.3 billion in losses for farmers and industries and $ 236 million in emergency aid payments to 22 European Union Member States.
Efforts to prevent such emergencies can be strengthened, however, through development of robust food safety systems that drive collective government and public action to safeguard against chemical or microbial contamination of food, the WHO said.
Global and national level measures can be taken, including using international platforms, to ensure effective and rapid communication during food safety emergencies.
At the consumer end of the food supply chain, the public plays important roles in promoting food safety, it said.
Food safety has become a serious public health concern in Bangladesh. According to experts, excessive use of pesticide, ripening agents, and the presence of heavy metals like arsenic in certain crops pose a great risk for people in Bangladesh.
Following a series of public and media campaigns against food contamination, the Bangladesh government has passed Safe Food Act 2013.
It also formed a Safe Food Authority to ensure coordination among the relevant ministries and departments. However, the authority has yet to begin its activity.
At a discussion at the Osmani Memorial Hall in the capital yesterday, Health Minister Mohammed Nasim warned that stern action would be taken against those responsible for food contamination.