World Food Safety Day: 420,000 people die from eating contaminated food — WHO

The headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) is pictured in Geneva [Photo Credit: VOANEWS]

Every year, an estimated 420,000 people around the world lose their lives from eating food contaminated by bacteria, viruses or chemical substances.

Nearly one in ten people – an estimated 600 million people – also fall sick for the same reason, the World Health Organisation has said.

In a press statement ahead of the inaugural World Food Safety Day, WHO said the statistics represent only the tip of the iceberg as the true number of cases is unknown.

The first-ever World Food Safety Day will be commemorated on June 7. The Day was adopted by the United Nation General Assembly in December 2018.

UN has adopted two of its agencies, WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), to lead efforts in promoting food safety around the world.

The initiative is themed ‘Food safety, everyone’s business’ and this year highlights that access to safe and nutritious food is the shared responsibility of governments, producers as well as individuals.

WHO said food safety contributes to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.

“Unsafe food also hinders development in low-and-middle-income economies, which lose around $95 billion in productivity associated with illness, disability and premature death suffered by workers.

“FAO and WHO are joining forces to assist countries to prevent, manage and respond to risks along the food supply chain, working with food producers and vendors, regulatory authorities and civil society stakeholders, whether the food is domestically produced or imported,” it said.

FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, said “whether you are a farmer, farm supplier, food processor, transporter, marketer or consumer, food safety is your business. “There is no food security without food safety.”

WHO Director-General, Ghebreyesus Tedros, said unsafe food kills an estimated 420,000 people every year.

“These deaths are entirely preventable. World Food Safety Day is a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the dangers of unsafe food with governments, producers, handlers and consumers. From farm to plate, we all have a role to play in making food safe,” Mr Tedros said.

In Nigeria, there have been several reports of families hospitalised or dying after eating contaminated food. There are also various alerts for Nigerians to beware of poisonous substances used in preserving food such as beans.

Invest in sustainable food system

In order to reduce the incidence of unsafe food globally, FAO and WHO advised countries to invest in sustainable food.

The UN agencies said everyone should have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. They said safe food is critical to promoting health and ending hunger, two of the primary aims of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Safe food allows for suitable intake of nutrients and contributes to a healthy life. Safe food production improves sustainability by enabling market access and productivity, which drives economic development and poverty alleviation, especially in rural areas.

“Investment in consumer food safety education has the potential to reduce foodborne disease and return savings of up to $10 for each dollar invested.”

Speaking in a similar vein, WHO Regional Director for Europe, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said every country, from small to big, from rich to poor, has suffered from food-borne illnesses.

“The scale of the challenge posed by food-borne disease is striking, indicating the importance of preventing and mitigating risks to food safety. Food is a global affair with a food chain that wraps around the planet. A simple meal can easily contain ingredients from multiple continents and its safety depends on international collaboration. World Food Safety Day is an unprecedented opportunity to call on governments to strengthen the systems that guarantee safe food, across sectors and across Europe and the world.”

Million cases of infection

Unsafe food is responsible for millions of sick days, and can sometimes lead to lasting or severe illness, hospitalisation and even death.

A variety of bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemical hazards have potentially serious consequences not only for human health but also for the economy and environment.

According to the estimates, the most frequent causes of food-borne illness are diarrhoeal disease agents. The most common is the norovirus. (Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. The virus is commonly spread through food or water that is contaminated during preparation or contaminated surfaces

Teamwork is the solution

Acting Regional Emergency Director at WHO/Europe, Dorit Nitzan, said food is something people don’t think about until it goes wrong.

“Yet unacceptable numbers of people are being subjected to the misery of foodborne illness, sometimes with serious consequences – especially for the very young and very old”.

“From handwashing, cooking and storing food properly, to surveillance and international regulation – every piece of the food safety puzzle affects lives, economies and whole communities. World Food Safety Day is our opportunity to say out loud that it’s teamwork that will make the difference,” he said

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