From farm to plate, make food safe! This is the catchcry of the World Health Organisation’s annual World Health Day for 2015. Each year on April 7th, a different theme is promoted which affects all of us, often in different ways.
Food safety is a concern for all societies, and falls into the hands of not just government regulators, if a community is fortunate enough to have intergovernmental agencies overseeing such a thing, but also the compliance of private industry food suppliers, manufacturers and agricultural workers. Food safety is separate to food security – which is the ability of a population to feed itself – in that it looks at the quality and safety of what is available.
A public issue for the public
Public health officials and organisations are often charged with protecting consumers from food poisoning, diseases originating from food and water supplies and diseases that are passed from human to human via the food supply. This is an area of enormous responsibility, especially when you consider that not everything can be checked for safety, even in wealthy, well-resourced first world countries. What we can advocate for is policy and legislation surrounding the best evidence-based practices around growing, processing, handling, making and packaging food.
The consequences of failing to protect consumers in this way, or indeed failing to enforce existing regulations around food safety, can lead to serious health problems, or worse. Diarrhoeal disease may be an unpleasantness in rich countries, but in poorer areas it can be fatal. Serious viruses and diseases can be passed along via contaminated products, particularly undercooked meat – think Ebola and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (the dreaded Mad Cow disease).
The consequences of poor safety
A chronic lack of food safety can lead to reproductive issues and developmental delays, cancers, malnutrition, digestive disorders, vitamin deficiencies, immunological problems, dehydration and failure to thrive. But as the way we produce and consume changes, so do the potential threats. Intensive agricultural practices may lead to less oversight, and globalisation can lead to inconsistencies in food safety from one region to another. Think the recent spate of Hepatitis A cases in a contaminated batch of frozen berries that reached our shores and then our supermarket shelves. In the latter example, it may be a case of shifting responsibility to another jurisdiction in order to save on costs. Even factors like mass catering and street food can lead to large numbers of food poisoning outbreaks, where dozens of people are trying to seek emergency treatment simultaneously.
Why we need act on a global scale
Add to this list the growing antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria, or ‘superbugs’, some of which can be carried along in our food supply. When you consider all of the potential sources of disease and illness in humans, it’s easy to see why the World Health Organisation is focussing on food safety in 2015. It is advocating for prevention, detection and an adequate response to foodborne outbreaks and disease.
Stay safety focused
Food should be safe and nutritious, always, in order to promote human health. At each link in the chain, there is a responsibility to ensure, as reasonably as possible, that consumers are not exposed to harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins. If this were the standard worldwide, the WHO estimates that up to 2 million lives would be saved every single year.
Health is always the most important thing we can have. We cannot buy it directly, we cannot ask our governments or health authorities for it, but we can ask for assurances – that everyone who CAN take responsibility for their roles, DOES. It may not seem like a lot, but in all parts of the world, it has enormous ripple effects. Care for your health and the health of your family in every way available by comparing private health insurance policies that will serve your immediate and future needs. Stay safe, and happy World Health Day.