The theme of this year’s inaugural WFSD is “Food Safety, everyone’s business” inviting us to recognize that food safety is everyone’s business.
Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health. Everyone has the right to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.
Unsafe food is a cause of poor health, suffering and death across the globe. It causes diseases varying from diarrhoea to cancers. An estimated six hundred million almost one in ten people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year.
Children under five years of age carry 40 percent of the foodborne disease burden, with 125 000 deaths every year. Diarrhoea diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year.
Food safety is key to achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals and World Food Safety Day brings it into the spotlight, to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks. Safe food contributes to economic prosperity, boosting agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.
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. Everyone can contribute to making food safe.
To ensure that food is safe, everyone has a role to play. Policy makers can build and maintain adequate food systems and infrastructures such as laboratories to respond to and manage food safety risks along the entire food chain, including during emergencies.
They can foster multi-sectoral collaboration among public health, animal health, agriculture and other sectors for better communication and joint action and integrate food safety into broader food policies and programmes including nutrition and food security.
On the other hand, food handlers and consumers can know the food they use (read labels on food package, make an informed choice, become familiar with common food hazards); handle and prepare food safely and grow fruits and vegetables using the WHO Five Keys to Growing Safer Fruits and Vegetables to decrease microbial contamination (See infographic below).
WHO aims to facilitate global prevention, detection and response to public health threats associated with unsafe food. Ensuring consumer trust in their authorities, and confidence in the safe food supply, is an outcome that WHO works to achieve.
To do this, WHO helps Member States build capacity to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks by providing independent scientific assessments on microbiological and chemical hazards that form the basis for international food standards, guidelines and recommendations, known as the Codex Alimentarius, to ensure food is safe wherever it originates.
WHO also support Member States in assessing the safety of new technologies used in food production, such as genetic modification and nanotechnology and helping improve national food systems and legal frameworks, and implement adequate infrastructure to manage food safety risks.
To this effect the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) was developed by WHO and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to rapidly share information during food safety emergencies;
Besides, WHO also helps Member Countries to promote safe food handling through systematic disease prevention and awareness programmes, through the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food message and training materials; and advocate for food safety as an important component of health security and for integrating food safety into national policies and programmes in line with the International Health Regulations (IHR - 2005).
WHO works closely with FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and other international organizations to ensure food safety along the entire food chain from production to consumption.
Today, WHO joins the United Nations and its Member States in promoting this year’s World Food Safety Day under the theme: “Food Safety, everyone’s business”. This theme underscores the collective energy and commitment of the global food safety community in uniting around the common goal of improving food safety.
The United Nations believe that improving food safety contributes positively to trade, employment and poverty alleviation.
The author is the WHO Representative to the United Republic of Tanzania.