Food Safety Declared the Focus of World Health Day

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has dedicated this year’s World Health Day to international food safety, highlighting it's everyday global importance
April 9, 2015

The WHO reports that new information regarding the level of harm that foodborne illnesses cause around the world has highlighted the global threats presented by unsafe foods.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has dedicated this year’s World Health Day to international food safety. The WHO says that there is a strong ‘need for coordinated, cross-border action across the entire food supply chain’. The slogan associated with this year’s food safety campaign, ‘Farm to plate, make food safe’, reiterates the importance of food safety throughout the whole production to consumption process.

Another way in which the WHO is shining a spotlight on the importance of food safety is the release of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases which is scheduled for later this year. The report focuses on the harm that unsafe food poses to the world and early reports show that of the 582 million reports of foodborne illnesses resulting from ingesting harmful viruses or bacteria, 351,000 resulted in deaths.

Larger Population Means Rapid Expansion in the Food Industry

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan says that the industrialization, trade and distribution of the food industry have made food safety an issue that can ‘rapidly become an international emergency’. Dr. Chan adds that the everyday food we eat has the potential to be contaminated by countless parasites, chemicals or bacteria.

The recent globalisation of the food industry means that the much of the food we consume comes from different parts of the world. The pizza you buy from your local take-away shop could actually be made with wheat from Argentina and topped with cheese from India and salami from Spain. This makes it very difficult for authorities to track and then stop a potential food poisoning outbreak as the ingredients come from various global locations.

Foodborne Contamination can Cause Cancer

Food that is unsafe can cause more than 200 diseases that range from diarrhea to cancers, according to the WHO. There are many examples of unsafe foods that can cause foodborne illnesses; undercooked chicken, chemically polluted crops or foods washed in contaminated water just to name a few.

While stories like the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in the UK or the recent Hepatitis A berry scandal might dominate headlines for a short amount of time, the ever-changing nature of the news means that there is always something new and exciting just around the corner.

This means that food safety, although undeniably important, is not always at the forefront of people’s minds. One reason why the WHO is dedicating this year’s World Health Day to food safety is to create a substantial and lasting awareness of its importance.

A Global Plan to Fight for Food Safety

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also believes the vast number of ways that unsafe food can cause contamination and harm makes it a globally important issue. In a joint FOA-WHO initiative, the International Food Safety Authorities Network is made up of 181 UN member states and focuses on rapidly sharing information related to food safety emergencies so as to stop a contamination spreading.

The World Health Day’s food safety focus not only looks at the big, news-worthy stories surrounding food illness outbreaks but on educating the world in the importance of everyday food safety. The WHO state that food safety is a ‘cross-cutting issue and shared responsibility that requires participation of non-public health sectors and support of major international and regional agencies and organisations active in the fields of food, emergency aid, and education.’