Food safety

Initiative to estimate the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases

Last reviewed/updated
23 April 2012

Foodborne Diseases – a Growing Risk

Foodborne diseases encompass a wide spectrum of illnesses and are a growing public health problem worldwide. They are the result of ingesting contaminated foodstuffs, and range from diseases caused by a multitude of microorganisms to those caused by chemical hazards.

The most common clinical presentation of foodborne diseases takes the form of gastrointestinal symptoms but such diseases can also lead to chronic, life-threatening symptoms including neurological, gynecological or immunological disorders as well as multiorgan failure, cancer and death.

Recent global developments are increasingly challenging international health security. These developments include the growing industrialization and trade of food production, the rapid urbanization associated with a more frequent food preparation/consumption outside the home and the emergence of new or antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

The global burden of foodborne diseases and its impact on development and trade is currently unknown in both industrialized and developing countries. However, developing countries tend to suffer from the largest share of the burden of foodborne diseases, thus achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (particularly MDG 1, 4, 5 and 6) is directly compromised.

Reliable epidemiological data are, however, urgently needed to enable policy-makers as well as other stakeholders to:

  • appropriately allocate resources to foodborne disease, prevention and control efforts;
  • monitor and evaluate food safety measures;
  • develop new food safety standards;
  • assess the cost-effectiveness of interventions; and
  • quantify the burden in monetary costs.

As a response to this data gap, the WHO Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses (FOS) launched an Initiative to Estimate the Global Burden of Foodborne Disease in collaboration with multiple partners.