World Food Safety Day: Food safety is a shared responsibility and everyone has a role to play

WORLD – Providing enough and safe food has always been central in championing global efforts of improving hygiene practices in the food and agricultural sectors – with the current global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic emphasizing more than ever before the importance of monitoring and addressing food safety.

With millions of people around the world depending on international trade for their food security and livelihoods, the need for food safety systems to be adapted to respond to disruptions in supply chains and ensure continued access to safe food has increasingly become more evident.

It is as such, that events like World Food Safety Day help by highlighting the critical role played by all those who work to ensure that they are not derailed by disruptions and other challenges to continue keeping foods safe.

To commemorate the World Food Safety Day 2020, held on 7th June, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the importance of addressing food safety through championing food safety as a shared responsibility.

The two UN specialized agencies convened an event under the theme ‘Food safety: everyone’s business!’; highlighting that everyone has a role to play including governments, industry, producers, business operators and consumers.

With statistics showing that eating contaminated food has caused an estimated 600 million people in the world, or almost one-in-ten individuals, to fall ill – 420,000 of whom die every year, the role of food safety in any given economy cannot be overshadowed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also shined a spotlight on the importance of monitoring and addressing food safety; adapting food safety systems to respond to supply chain disruptions; and ensuring the continued access to safe food.

The Head of FAO’s Food Safety and Quality Unit, Markus Lipp, attested that in these challenging times, this year’s motto – food safety is everybody’s business – is “more pertinent than ever”.

“No matter what else is going on, every single person still needs safe food every day”, said Markus Lipp. “We cannot let up in our vigilance to ensure that our food is safe”.

An investment in health

Safe food is not only critical to better health and food security, but also for livelihoods, economic development, trade and the international reputation of every country.

The heads of FAO, QU Dongyu, WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Roberto Azevedo, the World Trade Organization (WTO) said in a joint statement even as countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic, “care must be taken to minimize potential impacts on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security.”

“Improving hygiene practices in the food and agricultural sectors helps to reduce the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance along the food chain and in the environment”, they explained. 

Emphasizing the need for better data to understand the far-reaching impacts of unsafe food, WHO and FAO upheld that an investment in consumer food safety education  has the potential to reduce foodborne disease and return savings of up to ten-fold for each dollar provided.

“We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition”, the FAO, WHO, WTO chiefs stated.

“Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world”.

Food production

WHO says that infections caused by contaminated food have a much higher impact on populations with poor or fragile health, impacting infants, pregnant women and elderly and sick people more severely, and sometimes even leading to death

Meanwhile, throughout the various stages of the current complex supply chains, the agencies highlighted that opportunities for food contamination still prevail; from on-farm production to slaughtering or harvesting and during the course of processing, storage, transport and distribution.

“Moreover, the globalization of food production and trade is making the food chain even longer, complicating foodborne disease outbreak investigations and emergency product recalls,” the agencies added.

Markedy, FAO and it partners noted that the effects of food contamination reach far beyond direct public health consequences and may undermine food exports, tourism, food handler livelihoods and economic development, in both developed and developing countries.

To improve food safety, WHO advocated for different governmental departments and agencies – encompassing public health, agriculture, education and trade – to collaborate with each other as well as to engage civil society, including consumer groups.

FAO added that systems must be strengthened at national, regional and international levels in order to help ensure food safety and quality control.

The FAO further highlighted this will require leadership in assessing and developing food control systems, including policy and regulatory frameworks as well as institutional and individual management, including the management of food safety emergencies.

Sound scientific advice to underpin standards at national, regional and international levels, setting up platforms, databases and mechanisms that support dialogue and global access to information as well as collection, analysis and communication of food chain intelligence were also cited as ways that could help in addressing food safety issues.

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