10 facts on food safety
Updated October 2016
The great majority of people will experience a food or water borne disease at some point in their lives. This highlights the importance of making sure the food we eat is not contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, toxins and chemicals.
"Food safety: from farm to plate, make food safe" is the theme of World Health Day 2015. The day focuses on demonstrating the importance of food safety along the whole length of the food chain in a globalised world, from production and transport, to preparation and consumption.
Over the past half century, the process by which food gets from the farm to the plate has changed drastically. Food contamination that occurs in one place may affect the health of consumers living on the other side of the planet. This means that everyone along the production chain, from producer to consumer, must observe safe food handling practices.
Fact 1: More than 200 diseases are spread through food1 in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food and 420 000 die as a result. Children under 5 years of age are at particularly high risk, with some 125 000 young children dying from foodborne diseases every year. Proper food preparation can prevent most foodborne diseases.
Fact 2: Contaminated food can cause long-term health problemsThe most common symptoms of foodborne disease are stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea. Food contaminated with heavy metals or with naturally occurring toxins can also cause long-term health problems including cancer and neurological disorders.
Fact 3: Foodborne diseases affect vulnerable people harder than other groupsInfections caused by contaminated food have a much higher impact on populations with poor or fragile health status and can easily lead to serious illness and death. For infants, pregnant women, the sick and the elderly, the consequences of foodborne disease are usually more severe and may be fatal.
Fact 4: There are many opportunities for food contamination to take placeToday’s food supply is complex and involves a range of different stages including on-farm production, slaughtering or harvesting, processing, storage, transport and distribution before the food reaches the consumers.
Fact 5: Globalization makes food safety more complex and essentialGlobalization of food production and trade is making the food chain longer and complicates foodborne disease outbreak investigation and product recall in case of emergency.
Fact 6: Food safety is multisectoral and multidisciplinaryTo improve food safety, a multitude of different professionals are working together, making use of the best available science and technologies. Different governmental departments and agencies, encompassing public health, agriculture, education and trade, need to collaborate and communicate with each other and engage with the civil society including consumer groups.
Fact 7: Food contamination also affects the economy and society as a wholeFood contamination has far reaching effects beyond direct public health consequences – it undermines food exports, tourism, livelihoods of food handlers and economic development, both in developed and developing countries.
Fact 8: Some harmful bacteria are becoming resistant to drug treatmentsAntimicrobial resistance is a growing global health concern. Overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in agriculture and animal husbandry, in addition to human clinical uses, is one of the factors leading to the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in animals may be transmitted to humans via food.
Fact 9: Everybody has a role to play in keeping food safeFood safety is a shared responsibility between governments, industry, producers, academia, and consumers. Everyone has a role to play. Achieving food safety is a multi-sectoral effort requiring expertise from a range of different disciplines – toxicology, microbiology, parasitology, nutrition, health economics, and human and veterinary medicine. Local communities, women’s groups and school education also play an important role.
From a warehouse in Dubai to a hospital in Haiti: a journey of lifesaving supplies
Early warnings on disease outbreaks help guide WHO’s response in north eastern Nigeria
WHO and partners battle multiple disease outbreaks in South Sudan