WHO and FAO jointly facilitate observance of World Food Safety Day on every 7 June, in collaboration with the Member States and relevant organisations. The 2021 theme "safe food now for a healthy tomorrow" reminds us all that availability of safe and healthy food can be sustained into the future by embracing digital innovations, advancing scientific solutions, and honouring traditional knowledge that has stood the test of time.
The theme emphasizes that production and consumption of safe food have immediate and long-term benefits for people, the planet, and the economy. However, children under-5, pregnant women, elderly persons and those with an underlying illness are particularly vulnerable, in low-income countries.
Food security plays a vital role in reducing foodborne diseases. Every year, 600 million people fall sick as a result of around 200 different types of foodborne illnesses. Such illness is also responsible for 420 000 preventable deaths every year, according to FAO.The burden of foodborne illness falls most heavily on the poor and the young.
With increasing rates of community transmission and new variants of Covid being detected, one of the biggest challenges for the food industry is worker health. Since the food chain covers farm to fork/plate, challenges include microbial, chemical, personal, and environmental hygiene. While earlier incidents were mainly related to chemical contaminants, more recent outbreaks have been due to microbial agents. The Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) attributed to these agents are most devastating to children below five years.
The children are not always well-equipped to fight infection; because of their smaller size, lesser amount of pathogen can make them sick. They also have limited control over their diets and lack maturity required to carefully judge food safety risks.
As the pandemic continues, how can we approach food safety and security, especially when fraudulent practices continue? Food processors and manufacturers must take some steps in this regard. To ensure food safety and prevent foodborne illnesses, it is essential to detect, rapidly and accurately, the pathogenic agents. Food producers, distributors, handlers, and vendors bear primary responsibility while consumers need tobe literate and remain vigilant. Government agencies are required to enforce food safety laws and rules to safeguard public health. Medical providers must remain passionate to prevent foodborne illnesses.
Safe food supply depends on both sound science and equitable law enforcement. With technological advancement, new regulations must be formulated to protect a continuing supply of food products that are safe.
Food safety is a shared responsibility of the government, producers, and consumers.We all must be assured that the foods we consume are safe. While the governments should ensure safe and nutritious food for all, farmers and food producers need to adopt good practices, business operators must make sure food is safe, and consumers need to learn about safe and healthy food.
In most countries, the overarching goal of having food and drug administration is to take responsibility for compliance with food safety laws.
Aims of such agencies areto: (i) inform citizens of nutrition and components of important food products; (ii) enforce existing laws and regulations on the food industry to ensure supply of safe food products; and (iii) investigate and eliminate potential toxic contaminants and prosecute economic fraud through regular monitoring and surveillance on a chain of food supply.
Once the laws are enacted, they must be enforced. Industries that are directly or indirectly connected with food source, labeling, packaging, transportation, distribution, wholesaling and retaining should be brought under strict compliance.
Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition. As food supply chains cross multiple borders, collaboration of all stakeholders is essential to ensure food safety in today's world. The government should make food safety a public health priority and establish an effective system to develop a culture of production, processing, distribution, sales and consumption of safe foods. Accordingly, policies and regulatory framework need to be put in place.
Fahmida Hashem is a senior nutritionist at Labaid Cardiac Hospital.