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World Health Day: How safe is your food?

First findings from research on the global burden of foodborne diseases have been released by the World Health Organization. Some important results are related to enteric infections caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa that enter the body by ingestion of contaminated food.

First findings from research on the global burden of foodborne diseases have been released by the World Health Organization. Some important results are related to enteric infections caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa that enter the body by ingestion of contaminated food. Initial figures, from 2010, show that:

  • there were an estimated 582 million cases of 22 different foodborne enteric diseases and 351,000 associated deaths;
  • the enteric disease agents responsible for most deaths were Salmonella Typhi (52,000 deaths), enteropathogenic E. coli (37,000) and norovirus (35,000);
  • the African region recorded the highest disease burden for enteric foodborne disease, followed by South-East Asia;
  • over 40% people suffering from enteric diseases caused by contaminated food were children aged under 5 years.

Unsafe food also poses major economic risks, especially in a globalised world. For example, Germany’s 2011 E. coli outbreak reportedly caused US$1.3bn in losses for farmers and industries and US$236m in emergency aid payments to 22 European Union Member States.

The WHO has chosen food safety as the theme of World Health Day 2015 today (7 April). It says that efforts to prevent such emergencies can be strengthened through developing robust food safety systems that drive collective government and public action to safeguard against chemical or microbial contamination of food. It adds that protecting consumers from the risks of food poisoning and foodborne diseases, acute or chronic, should be a priority. Unsafe food can lead to a range of health problems, from diarrhoeal disease and infectious diseases (the first Ebola cases were linked to contaminated bush meat) to reproductive and developmental problems and cancers. Food safety is, therefore, a prerequisite for public health.

How do pharmacists contribute to food safety?

Pharmacists contribute to food safety in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • We are most likely to see people in the early stages of food poisoning and are in a position to assist them with appropriate treatment or referral, or both.
  • We give the latest advice on avoiding diarrhoea and foodborne diseases when travelling abroad, and what to do if affected.
  • We counsel pregnant women on a healthy balanced diet, but also on which kinds of foods they should avoid to ensure safety for themselves and their unborn children. 

As the WHO says, “Knowledge = Prevention”.

Do you know enough about food safety? Try the WHO #saferfood quiz here