Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Health and Food Safety

Key facts

  • Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining      life and promoting good health.
  • Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
  • An estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs).
  • Children under 5 years of age carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, with 125 000 deaths every year.
  • Diarrhoeal 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, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick.
  • Foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade.
  • Food supply chains now cross multiple national borders. Good collaboration between governments, producers and consumers helps ensure food safety.

Food Safe, Infographic, CDC
Source: CDC

Foodborne illness is a common, costly—yet preventable—public health problem. CDC estimates that 1 in 6 Americans get sick from contaminated foods or beverages and 3,000 die each year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that foodborne illnesses cost $15.6 billion each year.

Foodborne diseases take a major toll on health. Millions of people fall ill and many die as a result of eating unsafe food. Deeply concerned by this, WHO Member States adopted a resolution in 2000 to recognize food safety as an essential public health function.

Ensuring food safety is a public health priority, and an essential step to achieving food security.  Effective food safety and quality management systems are key not only to safeguarding the health and well-being of people but also to fostering economic development and improving livelihoods by promoting access to domestic, regional and international markets.

Food safety encompasses actions aimed at ensuring that all food is as safe as possible. Food safety policies and actions need to cover the entire food chain, from production to consumption.  

Food safety threats cause an enormous burden on economies globally due to frequent disruptions or restrictions of global and regional agri-food trade, loss of food and associated income, increased cost of health care, and also contribute to
food insecurity and the poverty cycle affecting the most vulnerable populations. To prevent some of their adverse impacts, FAO assists countries in building food safety emergencies prevention and management systems, thus contributing to strengthen country resilience to food chain crises. 

The burden of foodborne diseases

The burden of foodborne diseases to public health and welfare and to economy has often been underestimated due to underreporting and difficulty to establish causal relationships between food contamination and resulting illness or death. 

The 2015 WHO report on the estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases presented the first-ever estimates of disease burden caused by 31 foodborne agents (bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals) at global and regional level.

Need for well co-ordinated surveillance throughout the food chain

Food Safety, Infographic, CDC
Source: CDC

It takes several steps to get food from the farm or fishery to the dining table. We call these steps the food production chain (see graphic). Contamination can occur at any point along the chain—during production, processing, distribution, or preparation.

Food can become contaminated with biological, chemical or physical hazards at any point in the food chain. Therefore, prevention and control must be implemented at every step of the continuum. 

Food safety is rarely the responsibility of a single authority. Several countries with well-developed food control systems have operational protocols in place that clearly outline the roles, responsibilities and process for early detection, prevention and control of food safety incidents. 

However, many countries with less-developed food control systems still need to develop, implement and evaluate similar plans and protocols.

Through the Food Chain Crisis Management Framework (FCC), FAO addresses the risks to the human food chain through a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and institution-wide collaborative approach.  
This map shows the global distribution of FCC threats forecasted for the three-month period July-September 2016. The map is based on FAO data and information available at the time of preparation of FCC Early Warning Bulletin no.20 

Food Chain Crisis, Map, FAO
Source: FAO

Importance of prevention of foodborne outbreaks

It is difficult to estimate the burden of foodborne diseases: only a small fraction is recognized by concerned authorities. 

The ultimate goal of food safety and public health officials is to prevent such outbreaks. Surveillance systems allow authorities to better understand major food safety risks and to refocus prevention efforts. It also allows early detection of adverse food safety events and prompt and effective response. 

FAO collaborates with WHO in a number of activities aimed at prevention and management of food safety emergencies.

Source: WHO

This animated film was developed to explain the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food to general public from 9 to 99 years old, and encourage their practice at home. The Five Keys to Safer Food is a WHO global health message that everybody should know all over the world to prevent foodborne diseases and improve health.

The evolving world and food safety

Safe food supplies support national economies, trade and tourism, contribute to food and nutrition security, and underpin sustainable development.

Urbanization and changes in consumer habits, including travel, have increased the number of people buying and eating food prepared in public places. Globalization has triggered growing consumer demand for a wider variety of foods, resulting in an increasingly complex and longer global food chain.

As the world’s population grows, the intensification and industrialization of agriculture and animal production to meet increasing demand for food creates both opportunities and challenges for food safety. Climate change is also predicted to impact food safety, where temperature changes modify food safety risks associated with food production, storage and distribution.

These challenges put greater responsibility on food producers and handlers to ensure food safety. 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 contamination of infant formula with melamine in 2008 (affecting 300 000 infants and young children, 6 of whom died, in China alone), and the 2011 Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli outbreak in Germany linked to contaminated fenugreek sprouts, where cases were reported in 8 countries in Europe and North America, leading to 53 deaths and significant economic losses.

Food safety: a public health priority

Unsafe food poses global health threats, endangering everyone. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with an underlying illness are particularly vulnerable. Every year 220 million children contract diarrhoeal diseases and 96 000 die.

Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of diarrhoea and malnutrition, threatening the nutritional status of the most vulnerable. Where food supplies are insecure, people tend to shift to less healthy diets and consume more “unsafe foods” – in which chemical, microbiological and other hazards pose health risks.

The Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), held in Rome in November 2014, reiterated the importance of food safety in achieving better human nutrition through healthy nutritious diets. Improving food safety is thus a key in achieving Sustainable Development Goals. Governments should make food safety a public health priority, as they play a pivotal role in developing policies and regulatory frameworks, establishing and implementing effective food safety systems that ensure that food producers and suppliers along the whole food chain operate responsibly and supply safe food to consumers.

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. Here are some examples of effective actions:

Policy-makers can:

  • build and maintain adequate food systems and infrastructures (e.g. laboratories) to respond to and manage food safety risks along the entire food chain, including during emergencies;
  • foster multi-sectoral collaboration among public health, animal health, agriculture and other sectors for better communication and joint action;
  • integrate food safety into broader food policies and programmes (e.g. nutrition and food security);
  • think globally and act locally to ensure the food produce domestically be safe internationally.

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, practicing the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food at home, or when selling at restaurants or at local markets;
  • grow fruits and vegetables using the WHO Five Keys to Growing Safer Fruits and Vegetables to decrease microbial contamination.

Food Safety, Infographic, CDC
Source: CDC

FAO’s food safety and quality programme:

  • Provides independent scientific advice on food safety and nutrition which serves as the basis for food standards at national, regional and international levels;
  • Supports development of institutional and individual capacities for food control and food safety management, including the management of food safety emergencies;
  • Supports processes for the development of food safety policy frameworks;
  • facilitates global access to information and promotes the development of food safety/quality networks.

Advancing food safety initiatives: strategic plan for food safety including foodborne zoonoses 2013-2022

This Strategic Plan builds on World Health Assembly resolution WHA63.3 (May 2010) and provides a coherent framework for taking action on priority issues in the area of food safety and foodborne zoonoses for the period 2013–2022, and forms the basis of the WHO Twelfth General Programme of Work (2014-2019) for the program area food safety in Category 5.

The scope of the Plan covers food safety in all ramifications, encompassing the farm-to-table approach and including foodborne diseases of zoonotic origin. Therefore, all references to “food safety” or “foodborne diseases” comprise aspects or diseases of non-communicable and communicable origin, including foodborne zoonoses.

The Plan sets out three global strategic directions together with objectives and more detailed activities needed to achieve the overall mission:
To lower the burden of foodborne disease, thereby strengthening the health security and ensuring sustainable development of Member States.

Food Safety Risk Analysis

The FAO/WHO Food Safety Risk Analysis: A  guide for national food safety authorities- based on the risk analysis principles adopted by Codex - aims to assist food safety control authorities understand and apply risk analysis in food control. Through training and other capacity development activities, FAO works with key stakeholders in countries to promote application of risk analysis approaches to support decision-making on how to improve the food safety situation in the country. FAO also engages at sub-regional and regional levels to encourage collaboration among countries that may have common problems and common interests. The main emphasis of FAO’s risk analysis training and related capacity development efforts is to enhance food safety professionals’ ability to:
  • understand risk analysis and how it can be applied to support national-level      decision-making related to food safety management;
  • understand internationally-accepted approaches applied to chemical and microbiological risk assessments as a basis for evaluation of domestic food safety risks;
  • be aware of national data required to support risk assessment and the importance of risk assessor-risk manager interaction;
  • promote transparency, stakeholder involvement and better coordination among government agencies involved in food safety issues at the national level.

For More... 

What's Safer: Food and Beverage Safety for the International Traveler

Unclean food and water can cause travelers' diarrhea and other diseases. Travelers to developing countries are especially at risk. In otherwise healthy adults, diarrhea is rarely serious or life-threatening, but if can certainly make for an unpleasant trip. Take steps to avoid diarrhea when you travel.

Food Safety, Infographic, CDC
Source: CDC


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