How safe is your food. Not much it seems

Contaminated food leads to the death of 2 million people around the globe annually and is responsible for more than 200 types of diseases

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Friday 15 February 2019
Photo: Getty Images

How do we view food? As a source of nourishment and enjoyment, most would say. But food has also become a major source of fatal diseases globally, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of World Health Organization (WHO). 

Massive under-reporting of diseases caused by unsafe, contaminated food, however, kept the situation unclear until WHO released a report in 2015, Ghebreyesus said at the opening session of International Food Safety conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

How seriously the problem is exactly? According to the report, unsafe food causes 200 types of diseases, killing more than 2 million people every year. Low- and mid-income countries incur a cost of about $100 billion to treat such diseases.

“The most affected people are children under the age of five and regions like Africa and south Asia are the most affected,” Ghebreyesus said at the conference on February 12-13, 2019. 

The join effort by WHO, the World Trade Organization (WTO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the African Union (AU) focussed on discussing problems and possible causes for the increase in food-borne illnesses and to meet Sustainable Development Goals.

A lot of contamination cases were reported from India. In fact, food processing methods adopted by the poultry industry are insufficient to produce microbiologically safe products, according to a study called Salmonella in Indian ready-to-cook poultry: antibiotic resistance and molecular characterization.

“Eighty-seven chilled and frozen Ready to Cook (RTC) poultry samples of four different brands obtained from supermarkets and departmental stores in Mumbai were analysed for the presence of Salmonella. It was found that prevalence of Salmonella was higher in chilled RTC samples with 51 per cent as compared to the frozen RTC samples with 5 per cent,” the study reported.

Also, according to it Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) has become a global threat along with contaminated food, which is emerging as a new threat. “Some of these AMR microbes are also present in food and affect human health,” FAO Director General Jose Graziano Da Silva said.

Climate change is crucial in food safety as “changes in rainfall pattern and the temperature rise in tropical areas gives way to carcinogenic substances like Aflatoxin,” Silva said. Aflatoxins are carcinogens produced by certain molds that grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay and grains. Climate change is also reducing the nutrient levels of zinc, iron, calcium and potassium and this reduction is prevalent in crops like wheat, barley, potato and rice, he added.

“We have to guarantee that our food system provides safe, healthy and nutritious food for all. This requires action on many fronts like using less chemicals in agriculture, investing on adaptation to climate change and also complete food labelling for informed consumer choices,” Silva said.    

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