Month: October 2012
Danger Looms As Foodborne Diseases Hit Alarming Levels
Food safety is an increasingly important public health issue and governments all over the world are intensifying their efforts to improve food safety. These efforts are in response to an increasing number of food safety problems like foodborne diseases. According to the world health organization, these are diseases usually either infectious or toxic in nature, caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food.
Magnitude Of Foodborne Illness
Foodborne diseases are a widespread and growing public health problem, both in developed and developing countries. The global incidence of foodborne disease is difficult to estimate, but it has been reported that in 2005 alone 1.8 million people died from diarrhoeal diseases and ever since, this number is believed to have increased. A great proportion of these cases can be attributed to contamination of food and drinking water. Additionally, diarrhoea is a major cause of malnutrition in infants and young children.
In industrialized countries, the percentage of the population suffering from foodborne diseases each year has been reported to be up to 30%. In the United States of America (USA), for example, around 76 million cases of foodborne diseases, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, are estimated to occur each year. While less well documented, developing countries bear the brunt of the problem due to the presence of a wide range of foodborne diseases, including those caused by parasites. The high prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases in many developing countries suggests major underlying food safety problems.
While most foodborne diseases are sporadic and often not reported, foodborne disease outbreaks may take on massive proportions. For example, in 1994, an outbreak of salmonellosis due to contaminated ice cream occurred in the USA, affecting an estimated 224,000 persons. In 1988, an outbreak of hepatitis A, resulting from the consumption of contaminated clams, affected some 300,000 individuals in China.
Major Foodborne Diseases A Glance
Salmonellosis: Thisis a major problem in most countries. Salmonellosis is caused by the Salmonella bacteria and symptoms are fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Examples of foods involved in outbreaks of salmonellosis are eggs, poultry and other meats, raw milk and chocolate.
Campylobacteriosis: This is a wide spreadinfection that is caused by certain species of Campylobacter bacteria and in some countries, the reported number of cases surpasses the incidence of salmonellosis. Foodborne cases are mainly caused by foods such as raw milk, raw or undercooked poultry and drinking water. Acute health effects of campylobacteriosis include severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and diarrhoea. In two to ten per cent of cases the infection may lead to chronic health problems, including reactive arthritis and neurological disorders.
Cholera: This disease is increasingly becoming synonymous with the developing world thus a major public health problem. The disease is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. In addition to water, contaminated foods can be the vehicle of infection. Different foods, including rice, vegetables, millet gruel and various types of seafood have been implicated in outbreaks of cholera. Symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting and profuse watery diarrhoea, may lead to severe dehydration and possibly death, unless fluid and salt are replaced.
The list is endless but what is more important to note is how to lessen the outbreak of these diseases. The world ought to join hands in promoting food safety through senstisation and policy formulation among other initiatives. These efforts should cover the entire food chain from production to consumption should embrace all types of expertise world over.
FOOD SAFETY- WHAT YOU MUST KNOW
Foodborne diseases take a major toll on health. Millions of people fall ill and many die as a result of eating unsafe food. Deeply concerned by this, WHO Member States adopted a resolution in 2000 to recognize food safety as an essential public health function.
Food safety encompasses actions aimed at ensuring that all food is as safe as possible. Food safety policies and actions need to cover the entire food chain, from production to consumption.
Food safety is a public health priority; millions of people fall ill every year and many die as a result of eating unsafe food. Serious outbreaks of foodborne disease have been documented on every continent in the past decade, and in many countries rates of illnesses are increasing significantly.
Key global food safety concerns include spread of microbiological hazards (including such bacteria as Salmonella or Escherichia coli, e. coli), chemical food contaminants, assessments of new food technologies (such as genetically modified food) and strong food safety systems in most countries to ensure a safe global food-chain.
FOOD SAFETY FACTS
More than 200 diseases are spread through food
Millions of people
fall ill every year and many die as a result of eating unsafe food.
Diarrhoeal diseases alone kill an estimated 1.5 million children annually, and most of these illnesses are attributed to contaminated food or water. Proper food preparation can prevent most foodborne diseases.
Foodborne diseases are increasing worldwide
Disease-causing organisms in food are transmitted far and wide by today’s interconnected global food-chains – escalating how often and where foodborne illnesses occur. Rapid urbanization worldwide is adding to risks, as urban dwellers eat more food prepared outside the home that may not be handled or prepared safely – including fresh foods and fish, meat and poultry.
Food safety is a global concern
Globalization of food production and trade increases the likelihood of international incidents involving contaminated food. Imported food products and ingredients are common in most countries. Stronger food safety systems in export countries can reinforce both local and cross-border health security.
Emerging diseases are tied to food production
About 75% of the new infectious diseases affecting humans over the past 10 years were caused by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that started in animals and animal products. Many of these diseases in people are related to the handling of infected domestic and wild animals during food production – in food markets and at slaughter houses.
Minimize the risk of avian influenza
The vast majority of H5N1 avian influenza cases in people follow direct contact with infected live or dead birds. There is no evidence that the disease is spread to people by eating properly cooked poultry. To avoid risk of foodborne illnesses in poultry one ought to separate raw meat from other foods, keep clean and wash your hands and cook thoroughly (until meat is 70 °C in all parts, with no pink areas).
Disease prevention starts from the farm
Preventing animal infections at the farm level can reduce foodborne illnesses. For example, reducing the amount of Salmonella in farm chickens by 50% (through better farm management) results in 50% less people getting sick from the bacteria. Salmonella-free chicken herds are becoming more common in some countries.
Chemical hazards can contaminate food
Acrylamide, which may cause cancer, is formed from natural ingredients during the cooking of some foods at high temperatures (generally above 120 °C), including fried potato products, baked cereal products and coffee. The food industry is working to find methods to lower exposure to such chemicals. Avoid overcooking when frying, grilling or baking food.
Everyone has a role to play in food safety
Food contamination can occur at any stage from farm to table. Everyone on the food delivery chain must employ measures to keep food safe – farmer, processor, vendor and consumer. Safety at home is just as vital to prevent disease outbreaks. Women are primary targets for food safety education as they are responsible for household meals in many societies.
Schools ought to champion food safety
Educating children on safe food handling behaviors is key to preventing foodborne diseases today and in the future. Integrating food safety lessons into school curricula gives children essential life skills that can help to keep them and their families healthy.
Five keys to food safety
WHO and Member States are promoting the benefits of food safety, healthy diets and physical activity. The five keys to safer food are:
- keep clean
- separate raw and cooked
- cook all foods thoroughly
- keep food at safe temperatures
- Use safe water and raw materials.
UN warns of looming worldwide food crisis in 2013
World grain reserves are so dangerously low that severe weather in the United States or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned.
Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, which has experienced record heatwaves and droughts in 2012, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year, says the UN.
“We’ve not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). With food consumption exceeding the amount grown for six of the past 11 years, countries have run down reserves from an average of 107 days of consumption 10 years ago to under 74 days recently.
Prices of main food crops such as wheat and maize are now close to those that sparked riots in 25 countries in 2008. FAO figures released this week suggest that 870 million people are malnourished and the food crisis is growing in the Middle East and Africa. Wheat production this year is expected to be 5.2% below 2011, with yields of most other crops, except rice, also falling, says the UN.
The figures come as one of the world’s leading environmentalists issued a warning that the global food supply system could collapse at any point, leaving hundreds of millions more people hungry, sparking widespread riots and bringing down governments. In a shocking new assessment of the prospects of meeting food needs, Lester Brown, president of the Earth policy research centre in Washington, says that the climate is no longer reliable and the demands for food are growing so fast that a breakdown is inevitable, unless urgent action is taken.
“Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations. We are on the same path. Each country is now fending for itself. The world is living one year to the next,” he writes in a new book.
According to Brown, we are seeing the start of a food supply breakdown with a dash by speculators to “grab” millions of square miles of cheap farmland, the doubling of international food prices in a decade, and the dramatic rundown of countries’ food reserves.
This year, for the sixth time in 11 years, the world will consume more food than it produces, largely because of extreme weather in the US and other major food-exporting countries. Oxfam last week said that the price of key staples, including wheat and rice, may double in the next 20 years, threatening disastrous consequences for poor people who spend a large proportion of their income on food.
In 2012, according to the FAO, food prices are already at close to record levels, having risen 1.4% in September following an increase of 6% in July.
“We are entering a new era of rising food prices and spreading hunger. Food supplies are tightening everywhere and land is becoming the most sought-after commodity as the world shifts from an age of food abundance to one of scarcity,” says Brown. “The geopolitics of food is fast overshadowing the geopolitics of oil.”
His warnings come as the UN and world governments reported that extreme heat and drought in the US and other major food-exporting countries had hit harvests badly and sent prices spiraling.
“The situation we are in is not temporary. These things will happen all the time. Climate is in a state of flux and there is no normal any more.
“We are beginning a new chapter. We will see food unrest in many more places.
“Armed aggression is no longer the principal threat to our future. The overriding threats to this century are climate change, population growth, spreading water shortages and rising food prices,” Brown says.