The global burden of foodborne diseases is considerable, and collective action is vital for a food-secure world, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
In fact, statistics and findings from its report, WHO Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases, show that as many as 600 million (or almost one in 10 people in the world) fall ill each year after consuming contaminated food. Of these, 420,000 die.
WHO estimates that foodborne diseases have been responsible for the deaths of 125,000 children under the age of five around the world.
One such problem is brought about by unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causing more than 200 diseases — ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
The report presents the first global and regional estimates of the burden of foodborne diseases and highlights the importance of food safety, particularly in Africa, South-east Asia and other regions.
The risk of foodborne diseases is most severe in low- and middle-income countries and is linked to: preparing food with unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage; lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation.
Food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked, and unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition. Foodborne diseases can impede socioeconomic development by straining health-care systems and harming national economies, tourism and trade.
Hence, all stakeholders have a role to play in helping to improve safety throughout the food chain. Said Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of WHO’s Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses: “WHO has been working closely with governments to improve surveillance and reporting of foodborne diseases to obtain a clearer picture of unique local challenges. This work, along with the global report, will support policy makers to put the right strategies in place to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks.”
Everyone has a role to play in ensuring a food-secure world, and although much remains to be done, industry organisations such as Food Industry Asia (FIA) have recognised this and begun working on multisectoral partnerships to bring about better collaboration between governments, producers and consumers.
FIA recently signed an agreement with the World Bank for the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) to help scale up food safety capacity building in China and the ASEAN region. This unique global partnership aims to drive a joined-up food safety agenda, especially in China.
In fact, FIA had been working — since the creation of the GFSP in 2012 — to ensure that the initiative was well-informed and responsive to the needs of Asia’s F&B sector. As FIA executive director Matt Kovac said: “FIA’s goal is to stimulate effective multi-stakeholder collaboration in Asia to deliver a positive impact for society. By working together, we know that companies, governments and academic experts can be greater than the sum of their parts. Together, we can join forces to strengthen supply chains, reduce foodborne illnesses and drive economic growth and prosperity by fostering a safe food culture.”