Food safety is the theme of this year’s World Health Day

The World Health Organisation has released new research analysing the toll of foodborne diseases throughout the world.  The full results of the research which is being carried out by the WHO’s Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) should be released in October 2015.

The FERG research from 2010 shows that:

  • There were some 582 million cases of 22 foodborne enteric diseases and 351,000 associated deaths
  • The enteric disease agents that caused the most deaths were Salmonella Typhi, enteropathogenic E. coli (37,000) and norovirus (35,000);

In the UK consumers generally benefit from a food chain that is safe and robust.

However, there have been food-related scandals in the UK, most notably the supply of horse meat for use in products such as frozen meals, and the high rates of campylobacter in supermarket chickens.

Around 1 million people in the UK suffer from foodborne illness each year, either after eating out, or after eating contaminated food products.

The Food Standards Agency’s publication Foodborne Disease Strategy 2010 – 2015 noted that while for the majority of people the effects of food poisoning are mild and short-term, cases can lead to serious health problems or even death.

Some 500 people die from foodborne illnesses every year in the UK.  Food poisoning illness imposes a significant burden on individuals, the health service, and the economy.

The most recent WHO data underscores the global threat of unsafe food and the need for co-ordinated, cross-border action across the whole food supply chain.

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, speaking about the globalisation of food production said:

“A local food safety problem can rapidly become an international emergency. Investigation of an outbreak of foodborne disease is vastly more complicated when a single plate or package of food contains ingredients from multiple countries.”

“Unsafe food can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, and cause more than 200 diseases - ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Examples of unsafe food include undercooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with faeces, and shellfish containing marine biotoxins.”

Food safety lawyer Michelle Victor, speaking about World Health Day said:

“Any opportunity to raise awareness about the health problems caused by unsafe food is to be welcomed. 

“Consumers in the UK are generally well-protected by the laws that govern the production and supply of food.  

“However, recent news stories about the high levels of contaminated supermarket chickens, show that more action by food producers and suppliers can be taken to reduce the likelihood of contaminated food entering the food chain.

“People who work in restaurants and other food outlets should also remain vigilant about maintaining good food hygiene to protect their customers.”