New data on the harm caused by foodborne illnesses underscore the global threats posed by unsafe foods, and the need for coordinated, cross-border action across the entire food supply chain, according to World Health Organisation (WHO), which next week is dedicating its annual World Health Day to the issue of food safety.
World Health Day will be celebrated on 7 April, with WHO highlighting the challenges and opportunities associated with food safety under the slogan “From farm to plate, make food safe.”
“Food production has been industrialised and its trade and distribution have been globalised,” says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “These changes introduce multiple new opportunities for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals.”
Dr Chan adds: “A local food safety problem can 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.”
Unsafe food can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, and cause more than 200 diseases — ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Examples of unsafe food include undercooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with faeces, and shellfish containing marine biotoxins.
WHO is issuing the first findings from what is a broader ongoing analysis of the global burden of foodborne diseases. Some important results are related to enteric infections caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa that enter the body by ingestion of contaminated food.
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.
At the consumer end of the food supply chain, the public plays important roles in promoting food safety, from practising safe food hygiene and learning how to take care when cooking specific foods that may be hazardous (like raw chicken), to reading the labels when buying and preparing food. The WHO Five Keys to Safer Food explain the basic principles that each individual should know all over the world to prevent foodborne diseases.
Food safety is a cross-cutting issue and shared responsibility that requires participation of non-public health sectors (i.e. agriculture, trade and commerce, environment, tourism) and support of major international and regional agencies and organisations active in the fields of food, emergency aid, and education.