(Vatican Radio) The next time you’re chowing down on a juicy hamburger or snacking on Sashimi, you might want to think about how safe is the food that you’re eating. According to World Health Organization studies from 2010, there were some 582 million foodborne enteric diseases and 351,000 deaths due to them.
To mark World Health Day 7 April , the WHO is highlighting the challenges and opportunities associated with food safety under the slogan “From farm to plate, make food safe.”
Listen to Tracey McClure’s interview with Hilde Kruse, Food Safety Program Manager at the WHO’s regional office in Europe:
“Food production has been industrialized and its trade and distribution have been globalized,” 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.
Salmonella Typhi was found to have caused 52,000 deaths while E. coli accounted for 37, 000, and norovirus for the deaths of 35,000 people.
Africa recorded the highest numbers of enteric foodborne disease, followed by South-East Asia and over 40% people suffering from enteric diseases caused by contaminated food were children aged under 5 years.
Unsafe food also poses major economic risks, especially in a globalized world. Germany’s 2011 E.coli outbreak reportedly caused US$ 1.3 billion in losses for farmers and industries and US$ 236 million in emergency aid payments to 22 European Union Member States.
Global and national measures can build robust food safety systems
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 says. Global and national level measures can be taken, including using international platforms, like the joint WHO-FAO International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), to ensure effective and rapid communication during food safety emergencies.
The WHO is careful to point out that the public plays an important role 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 manual explains the basic principles that each individual should know all over the world to prevent foodborne diseases.