Food safety

Key Facts

  • Food safety, food security, and nutrition are all interconnected.
  • Around 600 million people – nearly 1 in 10 – get sick after eating contaminated foods. Four hundred twenty thousand of them die each year. This results in a loss of 33 million healthy life years.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, unsafe Food costs them 110 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and medical expenses.
  • Foodborne diseases kill 125,000 children under the age of five every year.
  • Foodborne diseases are a major obstacle to socioeconomic development, as they strain health care systems while also harming tourism and trade.

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To maintain life and promote good health, it is important to have access to enough nutritious and safe Food. Foods contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, or chemicals can cause more than 200 illnesses, from diarrhea and cancer to other diseases. This leads to a vicious circle of malnutrition and disease, which is especially harmful to infants, children, the elderly, and those who are sick. To ensure food safety and a stronger food system, a good collaboration between government officials and producers is required.

Foodborne illness and its causes

Foodborne diseases are infectious or toxic and can be caused by bacteria or viruses. They may also contain chemicals. Chemical contamination can cause acute poisoning or chronic diseases such as cancer. Foodborne illnesses can cause long-term disability or death. Below are some examples of food hazards.


  • Salmonella and Campylobacter, as well as enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia Coli, are among the most common pathogens found in Food. They affect millions of people each year, with sometimes fatal results. Fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are some of the symptoms. Eggs, poultry, and other animal products often cause salmonellosis outbreaks. Campylobacter is a foodborne disease that can be spread by drinking water, raw milk, or poultry. Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia Coli can be found in unpasteurized dairy products, raw or undercooked poultry, and fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Listeria can cause miscarriage or even death in newborns. Listeria is a foodborne infection that can have serious and even fatal consequences for infants, children, and the elderly. Listeria can be found in dairy products that have not been pasteurized and other ready-to-eat Food. It is also able to grow at temperatures below freezing.
  • Vibrio-cholera infects people via contaminated food or water. The symptoms can include vomiting, abdominal pain, and watery diarrhea. This can quickly lead to dehydration and even death. Cholera outbreaks have been linked to rice, vegetables, millet, and seafood.

Antimicrobials such as antibiotics are necessary to treat infections that are caused by bacteria. This includes foodborne pathogens. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine have been linked to the spread and emergence of resistant bacteria. This makes the treatment of infectious diseases in humans and animals ineffective.


Food can transmit some viruses. Norovirus, a common foodborne infection, is characterized by nausea, vomiting explosively, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Food can spread hepatitis A. It can cause liver disease that can last for a long time.


Some parasites are transmitted only through Food, like fish-borne trematodes. Some parasites, such as Echinococcusspp or Taeniaspp tapeworms, can infect humans through direct contact with animals or Food. Other parasites such as Ascaris Cr, cryptosporidium, or Giardia can enter the food chain through water or soil.


Prions are infectious agents made of protein. They are unique because they are linked to specific neurodegenerative diseases. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, is a prion-like disease that affects cattle. It’s associated with variant Creutzfeldt Jakob (vCJD), a form of the disease in humans. The most likely way to transmit the prion agent is by consuming meat products that contain specified risk materials, such as brain tissues.


The most serious health concerns are naturally occurring toxins as well as environmental pollutants.

  • Naturally occurring toxins are mycotoxins and marine biotoxins. They also include cyanogenic glycosides, as well as toxins found in poisonous mushrooms. Mycotoxins, such as aflatoxins and ochratoxins, produced by molds on grains can be found in staple foods such as corn or cereals. Long-term exposure to mycotoxins can cause cancer, affect the immune system, and negatively impact normal development.
  • Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). are organic compounds that accumulate both in the human body and environment. Dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other unwanted byproducts from industrial processes and waste disposal are examples. Worldwide, they are present in the background. They accumulate in the animal food chain. Dioxins can be highly toxic, causing reproductive and developmental issues, damage to the immune system, and causing cancer.
  • Heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, can cause kidney and neurological damage. Heavy metal contamination of Food is primarily driven by soil and water pollution.
  • Other Chemical hazards in Food can be food allergens and residues from drugs or other contaminants that are incorporated into the Food during processing.

Foodborne disease burden

Foodborne illnesses have a significant impact on public health and the economy. However, they are often underreported, and it is difficult to establish causal links between food contamination and illness or death.

In the 2015 WHO report, the estimated global burden of foodborne disease was presented for the first time at the sub-regional and international levels. The report highlighted that there could be more than 600,000,000 cases of foodborne illness and 420000 deaths in a single year. Foodborne diseases are disproportionately burdensome for vulnerable groups, and in particular, children under five years old. The highest burden is in low and middle-income countries.

According to the 2019 World Bank report, the economic burden associated with foodborne illness in low-and middle-income countries is estimated at US$ 95 billion annually. The annual cost of treating such diseases is estimated at US$15 billion.

Food safety in the changing world

Food security and food safety are essential to the development of sustainable economies, as well as trade, tourism, and national economies.

The urbanization of the world and the changes in consumer behavior have led to an increase in people eating and buying Food prepared in public. Globalization has led to a growing demand from consumers for more variety in Food, which has resulted in a longer and more complex global food chain. Climate change will also have an impact on food safety.

Food producers and food handlers are now more responsible for ensuring food safety. Due to the rapid spread of products, local incidents can quickly become international emergencies.

Priority for public health

Food safety should be a priority for governments since they are responsible for developing and implementing policies and regulatory frameworks as well as establishing and implementing food safety systems. Food handlers should practice the WHO’s five keys to safer Food at home mar,  let, and restaurants. Food producers can grow fruit and vegetables safely using WHO’s Five Keys to Growing Safer Fruits and Vegetables.

WHO responds?

WHO’s goal is to improve national food control systems in order to prevent, detect, and respond to global public health threats that are associated with unclean Food. In order to achieve this, WHO provides support to Member States through:

    • Codex Alimentarius is a scientific assessment system that provides independent assessments of microbiological and chemical hazards to Food.
    • Assessing the performance of national food control systems throughout the entire food chain, identifying priority areas for further development, and measuring and evaluating progress over time through Assessing the safety of new food technologies, such as genetic modifications, cultivated foods, and nanotechnology.
  • INFOSAN, the International Food Safety Authorities Network, is a network of food safety authorities that helps implement infrastructure for managing food safety risks.
  • Promote safe Food handling by implementing systematic programs for disease prevention and public awareness, including the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food message and materials.
  • Advocating for food safety to be an important component of security in health and to integrate food safety into policies and programs at the national level, according to International Health Regulations(IHR 2005);
  • Monitoring regularly the global burden of foodborne and zoonotic diseases at national, regional, and international levels and supporting countries in estimating the federal responsibility of foodborne illness;
  • Update the WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety (2022-230) in order to help Member States strengthen their food control systems at home and reduce foodborne disease burden.

WHO works closely together with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health Organization (OIE), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and other international organizations to ensure food security along the entire food supply chain from production to consumption.

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