World Health Day to focus on food safety this year

About 306 outbreaks of food poisoning and 344 outbreaks of diarrhoea were reported between 2011 and 2014

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Monday 16 March 2015


Food poisoning and diarrhoeal infection are the two leading causes of food-borne illnesses in India. Moreover, due to lack of laboratories and shortage of manpower, many outbreaks of the diseases are not investigated properly.

This year, with food safety as a theme of World Health Day that will be observed on April 7, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended a slew of measures to make food safe for consumption.

According to the data provided by the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there were 306 outbreaks of food poisoning and 344 of diarrhea between 2011 and 2014. This meant that 46 per cent of the total outbreaks were due to food borne diseases.

"Diarrhoea is also related to consumption of improper food and can be clubbed with poisoning," said Anil Kumar, head, Centre for Epidemiology and Parasitic Diseases of the National Centre for Disease Control. He was speaking at a WHO programme on food safety.

Kumar added that lack of thorough epidemiological and lab investigations to identify the exact reason for food causing the illness hampers effective prevention strategies. "We launched pilot projects in two districts each of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu for surveillance. Once we have improved our existing model, we will implement it across the country," he said.

"Food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances is responsible for over 200 diseases—from diarrhea to cancers," said Asheena Khalakdia of WHO. She added that globally, foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases kill two million people annually, mostly children. "Nearly 700,000 deaths in children occur in South East Asia region," she said.

By focussing on food safety this year, WHO is helping governments across the world, including India, to adopt policies for food safety. "Some challenges in India include enforcement of food safety regulations, compliance with international standards, and consumer awareness and education," said Khalakdia.

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