United Nations – To mark World Health Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on governments around the world and all sectors involved in the food business to introduce food safety policies into their political agendas.
Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York, WHO’s Executive Director, Jacob Kumaresan, said, “(Governments) should have comprehensive food safety policies which are matched with appropriate legislation. (This means) robust food safety strategies which include good storage, transportation, retail and good restaurant practices.”
Kumaresan also called for a “multi-sectoral collaboration, as food passes through multiple hands, from farm to plates. This is a test for governmental ability to foster dialogue and coordination between the health sectors, along with agriculture, trade, environment and tourism sectors.”
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked, “Changes to the way food is produced, distributed and consumed, the emergence of resistant bacteria, and increases in travel and trade make it difficult to manage pathogens and contaminants once they are in our food supply.”
This year, WHO’s slogan “from farm to plate: make food safe” has been chosen because of its impact on public health and upon the global economy, explained Kumaresan.
Today access to direct food supply is widespread, said Kumaresan. “However, food also contains harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and sometimes chemicals substance, which are responsible for 200 diseases,” such as diarrhoea, heart diseases and cancer, he added.
“Unsafe food is a largely under-reported and an often overlooked global problem,” said Ban, adding that, “With the food supply chain stretching around the world, the need to strengthen food safety systems within and among countries is becoming more critical.”
According to WHO, food and waterborne diseases are linked to approximately 2 million deaths per year. The top offender bacteria are Salmonella Typhi and E.Coli, and the two most problematic areas for food safety are Africa and South Asia.
Environmental problems are a threat to food security, highlighted Kumaresan.
“Climate change offers difficulties in food production and distributions, biological and environmental contaminations, and anti-microbial resistance.”
Increases in travel and trade can pose challenges to food safety, as a local issue can easily become an international emergency, which requires a lot of money to contain, with consequences for the reputations of farms or countries where the food was produced, he added.
Germany’s 2011 E.coli outbreak, for example, caused 1.3 billion dollars in losses for farmers and industries, said Kumaresan.
“For the consumer, we need to handle food properly and we need to use basic hygiene,” concluded Kumaresan.
The WHO has developed five keys for people to handle food in a safer way. First, maintain hygiene practices – wash hands before eating, wash vegetable and fruits – second, separate raw food from cooked food. Thirdly, cook food thoroughly, so the heat can kill the germs. Fourthly, keep food in a safe temperature. Finally, use safe water while preparing food.