By Dr S V N Vijayendra
Unsafe food may carry harmful microorganisms or toxic chemicals that cause more than 200 diseases, starting from diarrhoea to cancers. An estimated 600 million people fall ill after eating contaminated food, and 4.20 lakh people die every year, besides productivity loss and medical expenses to the tune of US $ 110 billion per year due to the consumption of unsafe food in low and middle-income countries alone. It emphasises the need for safe food, which is essential for health and well-being.
There is no food security without food safety. Keeping the importance of safe food, the third World Food Safety Day (WFSD) is celebrated on 7 June this year. It is an observation of the United Nations organisation in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation. It aims to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks, contributing to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism, and sustainable development.
This year’s theme for WFSD is ‘Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow.’ It stresses the production and consumption of safe food, which has immediate and long-term benefits for people, the planet, and the economy. There are systemic connections between the health of people, animals, plants, the environment, and the economy. Recognising it will help to meet the needs of the future.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed in 2018 to celebrate World Food Safety Day on 7th June every year. In continuation to this, in 2020, the World Health Assembly further adopted a decision to strengthen food safety efforts to reduce the burden of foodborne disease.
Food safety is a shared responsibility of producers, food handlers, governments, and consumers. Everyone has a specific role to play to ensure the food consumed is safe and healthy at all stages, from farm to table. Through World Food Safety Day, WHO works to mainstream food safety in the public agenda and reduce the burden of foodborne diseases globally. It is emphasised that food safety is everyone’s business.
According to the WHO, the consumption and production of safe food have immediate and long-term benefits for people, the planet and the economy. The availability of safe and healthy food for all can be sustained into the future by embracing digital innovations, advancing scientific solutions as well as honouring traditional knowledge that has stood the test of time. Food systems need to produce enough safe food for all. Multi-sectoral collaboration along with equitable local actions is essential in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals for zero hunger and to reduce health burden.
In this direction, the WHO and its member states have made a resolution to strengthen the efforts on food safety as discussed in the 73rd World Health Assembly held in May 2020. According to this, the “One Health” approach needs to be adopted to promote the sustainability and availability of safe, sufficient, and nutritious food for all populations. The resolution also called to invest in national food safety systems and innovations and to share timely data and evidence on foodborne disease outbreaks and hazards to the International Network of Food Safety Authorities (INFOSAN). The Global strategy for food safety, to address current and emerging challenges and to incorporate new technologies and innovative strategies for strengthening food safety systems, is to be updated.
On this occasion, the WHO has called for action on the following aspects: (1) Ensuring the food is safe – Government must ensure safe and nutritious food for all, (2) Growing it safe – Agriculture and food producers need to adopt good practices, (3) Keeping it safe – Business operators must make sure food is safe, (4) Knowing what’s safe – Consumers need to learn about safe and healthy food, and (5) Teaming up for food safety – Work together for safe food and good health.
Although the COVID-19 has not been transmitted by food, the focus needs to be made on its safety while preparing, distributing, and storing until its consumption, especially in maintaining hygiene and avoiding the spread of zoonotic diseases and temperature abuse. Weaknesses or vulnerabilities in food production and control systems need to be identified to keep food safe. Concerted efforts on food safety are the need of the hour to provide safe food to one and all.
(The writer is a regular contributor to City Today)