Recognising the importance of food safety

4 min read /
General Nutrition Nutrition Health & Wellness

Food safety is extremely important because unsafe foods have been linked to various medical conditions/illnesses, which are usually referred to as ‘foodborne illnesses’ or ‘food poisoning’. These conditions occur after food with contaminated bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals is ingested. Some of the common foodborne illnesses include:

  • Salmonellosis: This is caused by the Salmonella bacteria, which results in symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting.
  • Campylobacteriosis: Is caused by the Campylobacter bacteria, leading to symptoms such as diarrhoea (often bloody), abdominal pain, fever, and nausea.
  • E. coli infection: Some strains of Escherichia coli bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7, can cause severe illness. Symptoms include bloody diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and, in some cases, kidney failure.
  • Listeriosis: Caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, this infection primarily affects pregnant women, new-borns, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea and, in severe cases, it can lead to meningitis or blood infection.
  • Norovirus infection: Noroviruses are very contagious and can cause gastroenteritis. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, and sometimes fever.
  • Hepatitis A: This is a viral infection that affects the liver and is transmitted through contaminated food and water. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, jaundice and dark urine.
  • Botulism: Caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. This is a rare but serious illness that produces symptoms such as blurred vision, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, muscle weakness and paralysis. It can be life-threatening.
  • Food poisoning by toxins: Certain bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens, can produce toxins in food that, when ingested, cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.

This is an inexhaustive list and there are other foodborne illnesses and conditions that can result from consuming unsafe food.

Promoting food safety

In preparation for World Food Safety Day on 7 June 2023, which has the theme “Food standards save lives”, we are sharing this resource from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). The article, starts by expanding on important issues such as how do you know your food is safe when you eat; food standards ensure safety and quality; and enforcing food standards.

The article also highlights 10 facts and figures that outline the enormity of food safety challenges and provides HCPs with additional knowledge on the importance of food safety.

  1. One in 10 people worldwide falls ill from contaminated food each year.
  2. More than 200 diseases are caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances like heavy metals.
  3. Children under 5 make up 9% of the population but carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden.
  4. Codex has 236 standards, 84 guidelines, 56 codes of practice, 126 maximum levels for contaminants in food, and over 10 000 quantitative standards covering maximum levels for food additives and residue limits for pesticides and veterinary drugs in food.
  5. Each year an estimated 5 million people around the globe die because of infections with antimicrobial-resistant microbes.
  6. Food safety standards can minimise microbial, chemical or physical contamination of food.
  7. Codex has supported 50 developing and transition economy countries to strengthen their institutions to participate more effectively in Codex work.
  8. Child growth and development can be improved through safe and nutritious foods, as well as increasing school performance and work productivity in adult life.
  9. Adopting a holistic one-health approach to food safety will deliver a better food safety system as food safety is affected by the health of animals, plants and the environment in which it is produced.
  10. Food safety contributes to the achievement of several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The slogan for World Food Day is “Food safety is everyone’s business”. Therefore, no matter who you are or what you do, you play an important role in making sure food is safe to eat. For example:

Click here to read the full article