The theme of this year’s World Food Safety Day was “Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow,” which promotes actions that help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks.
When safety is not maintained throughout the production chain, food can be a vehicle for disease. Ingestion of food contaminated by bacteria, parasites, chemical contaminants and biotoxins can trigger a wide group of diseases ranging from diarrhea to cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 77 million people in the Americas suffer from foodborne diseases (FBD) each year and that more than 9,000 die after eating contaminated food. Of the total, 31 million are children under 5 years of age, of whom more than 2,000 die.
Foodborne diseases are a major public health problem and cost $7.4 billion annually in productivity losses, overburdening of health systems and reduction of economic development due to loss of confidence in tourism, food production and the marketing system, according to World Bank information published in 2016.
Foodborne diseases affect vulnerable populations the most, but they are also preventable. Safety standards and practices must be applied throughout the food chain from primary production, transportation, and processing through distribution, sale, and consumption.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) works with regional countries to strengthen food control systems through five pillars: standards and regulations; education and communication; surveillance; inspection and laboratories.
That work is coordinated by PAHO’s Brazil-based Pan American Center for Foot and Mouth Disease and Veterinary Public Health (PANAFTOSA/SPV-PAHO/WHO).
World Food Safety Day was adopted in December 2018 by the United Nations General Assembly, and, since then, the benefits of safe food are celebrated every June 7.
Food Safety in the Time of COVID-19
While SARS-CoV-2 is not foodborne, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many food-related issues such as hygiene, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases, climate change and food fraud. And the pandemic has identified vulnerabilities in food production and control systems.