On 7 June 2022, we celebrate World Food Safety Day. This year’s theme is “Safer food, better health” which highlights the role that safe, nutritious food plays in ensuring health and wellbeing.
What is food safety?
Food safety can be defined as the absence of hazards in food that may harm the health of consumers. For many people, specifically, those living in underdeveloped and poor regions, food safety is not guaranteed. People living in poverty bear the greatest burden because they lack access to basic needs that go hand in hand with food safety practices. This includes access to clean water required for cleaning and processing food and access to food storage infrastructure such as refrigerators and freezers (which require electricity). Additionally, their food choices are limited, and they cannot always access alternative food if food products, such as maize, are contaminated.
What are foodborne diseases?
Foodborne diseases, sometimes referred to as food poisoning, are illnesses that result from the consumption of contaminated food products. More than 250 foodborne hazards have been recognized, and are caused by bacteria (such as Salmonella or Listeria), viruses (Hepatitis A), parasites (such as tapeworms) and chemicals (such as mycotoxins, aflatoxin, and heavy metals). The most common symptoms of food poisoning include nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, dizziness and fatigue. It can however have more serious implications such as dehydration, and in extreme cases, death. People who are the most at risk are babies and children, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and older people. Each year, approximately 600 million cases of foodborne diseases are reported and cause 420 000 deaths worldwide. 30% of these deaths are in children under the age of five.
Practising food safety in the food system
Food safety needs to be practised at all stages in the food system, from production, processing, storage, distribution and preparation and consumption. Various factors can impact food safety. Exposing agriculture to harmful chemicals, for example, can cause diseases. Processing meat in unsanitary environments can cause cross-contamination. If food is not transported and stored at the correct temperature and humidity, and in clean environments, the growth of bacteria and formation of toxins is likely. Additionally, the unsafe handling and preparation of food can cause contamination. Some meat, for example, can cause food poisoning if it is undercooked. Similarly, unpasteurized milk can contain bacteria that cause food poisoning. To improve food safety, food can be canned, frozen or even dried, to preserve it for longer periods of time. Milk, eggs and juice should be pasteurized before consumption. Other foods including vegetables and fruits, spices, and meats can go through an irradiation process.
Practising food safety at home
There are several actions that each person can take to reduce the risk of food poisoning:
- Wash hands before handling food
- Disinfect any equipment and the workspace used to prepare food regularly and in between uses
- Wash fruits and vegetables
- Keep raw meat and eggs separate from other foods
- Keep food away from insects, rodents and other animals
- Cook foods at safe temperatures
- Store foods at the correct temperatures, and in clean environments
- Refrigerate cooked food immediately
A call to action
This World Food Safety Day, the World Health Organization has issued a call to action, for policymakers to support policy measures and legal frameworks to ensure that food production and processing complies with food safety standards. They have also called for food businesses to develop a food safety culture and to promote the safe handling of food. Additionally, they have called for greater support of food safety education for consumers.
They have also published a guide to World Food Safety Day 2022 which can be read here.