World Health Day to highlight food safety

The World Health Day – 2015, under the theme ‘From Farm to Plate, Make Food Safe’ will be celebrated in Phuentsholing on April 7.

The day will bring focus on the need to strengthen food safety systems in and between all countries as our food supply becomes increasingly globalized. A press release from the World Health Organization (WHO) states that the food chain now extends over thousands of kilometres, crossing many national borders, and contains many steps from production to consumption. “An error by a food producer in one country can affect the health of consumers on the other side of the world. The globalization of food trade has been linked to outbreak of food borne illnesses, trade disputes and food recalls,” the press release states.

It also calls upon nations, policy makers, farmers, food handlers, families and individuals to make food safety a priority. The consumption of food contaminated with microbial pathogens, toxic chemicals or radioactive materials cause food borne illness.

Unsafe food and water cause a range of diseases, deaths and impact the wellbeing of individuals as well as nations. WHO estimates that 700,000 children die of diarrhoea in the South-East Asian region annually.

In a press briefing held yesterday at WHO Country Office, Dr Nima Wangchuk said food safety control assures that food, produced, distributed, bought, prepared and eaten, will not cause harm to the consumers.

He said that unsafe food borne and water borne diarrhoeal diseases kill an estimated 2 million people globally every year. He added that nutrition and food security are inextricably linked as unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition.

He also highlighted the challenges to food safety, such as infected animals that often show no illness. “The public health initiatives must include apparently healthy animals and safety on their food,” Dr Nima Wangchuk said.

Further warning that contaminated food usually looks, smells, and tastes normal and that the traditional mode of visual food inspection is not sufficient. “Pathogens may survive traditional food preparation techniques so new control techniques are required,” he added.

According to WHO, the main issue on food safety in the South Asian Region are enforcement of the food safety regulation, compliance of International Food Quality and Standards, multi-sectoral coordination and collaboration, and the need for consumer awareness and education.

“Food safety policies need to be multi-sectoral since food passes through multiple hands to reach our plates,” states the WHO press release. The message on World Health Day is spur governments worldwide to improve food safety through various means, such as public awareness campaigns and multi-sectoral action and to encourage consumers to ensure the food on their plate is safe.

It states that governments must take a preventive approach to improving food safety and quality through application of good farming practices by using agro-chemicals or veterinary drugs only as prescribed. Good storage, transportation, retail and restaurant practices must be implemented to make food safe for consumption.

It also says that food safety today also covers issues such as genetically modified foods, including food that is supplemented with micronutrients and vitamins. “Food safety should be a part of food security and nutrition programme in countries”.

WHO and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have established the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) to rapidly share information during food safety emergencies.

WHO supports countries to prevent, detect and respond to food borne disease outbreaks using a collection of international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice called the Codex Alimentarius. Codex provisions cover all the main foods and processes, the hygienic and nutritional quality of food including microbiological norms, food additives, pesticide and veterinary drug residues, contaminants, labeling and presentation, and methods of sampling and risk analysis.

The press release also states that food safety is a critical public health function for the governments and a shared responsibility.

The World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948. A theme is selected each year to highlight a priority area of public health.

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