Food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances is responsible for more than 200 diseases, and is linked to the deaths of nearly two million people around the world annually, most of them children.
The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to ensure everyone concerned with food safety, from policy makers to food producers, retailers and consumers are aware of the dangers of unsafe food and work together to promote and improve food safety. It is with this aim in mind that WHO has decided to dedicate this year’s World Health Day to the theme of: How safe is your food? From farm to plate make food safe.
Every year on 7 April — the day WHO was founded in 1950 — the organization, along with its international, regional and local partners, celebrates World Health Day. Events held on the day are intended to draw global awareness to a subject of major importance to world health.
This year the theme of ‘Food Safety’ will draw attention to the challenges posed to food safety systems from changes in environment, food production, distribution and consumption, as well as the dangers from new and emerging pathogens and antimicrobial resistance.
As our food supply becomes increasingly globalized new threats are constantly emerging. Food containing harmful pathogens bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances is responsible for hundreds of diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers.
Local incidents can quickly evolve into international emergencies due to the speed and range of product distribution. Serious foodborne disease outbreaks have occurred on every continent in the past decade, often amplified by globalized trade.
Examples include: The 2008 contamination of infant formula with melamine in China, affected more than 300,000 infants and young children. Similarly, the 2011 Escherichia coli outbreak in Germany, linked to contaminated fenugreek sprouts, was reported in eight countries in Europe and North America and led to 53 deaths. The outbreak caused US$1.3 billion in losses for farmers and industries and $236 million in emergency aid payments to 22 European Union Member States.
The WHO is working with countries and partners to strengthen efforts to prevent, detect and respond to foodborne disease outbreaks in line with the Codex Alimentarius, a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety.
The organization advocates food safety is a shared responsibility — from farmers and manufacturers to vendors and consumers — and is raising awareness about the importance of the part everyone can play in ensuring that the food on our plate is safe to eat.
Food can become contaminated at any point of production and distribution, and the primary responsibility lies with food producers. Yet a large proportion of foodborne disease incidents are caused by foods improperly prepared or mishandled at home, in food service establishments or markets.
Not all food handlers and consumers understand the roles they must play, such as adopting basic hygienic practices when buying, selling and preparing food to protect their health and that of the wider community.