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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Food is a basic human right necessary for optimal health and well-being. Food protects the right of all human beings to live in dignity free from hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition. It is important that food is safe, that is, it is free from contaminants and will not cause illness or harm. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of illness and malnutrition threatening the health of the most vulnerable. The World Health Organisation estimates that 600 million people across the world fall ill after eating contaminated food, and 420,000 people die every year. The majority of these cases involve gastrointestinal issues, though they can also produce neurological, gynaecological, and immunological symptoms.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds As a result, foodborne illnesses are a burden on public health and contribute significantly to the cost of health care. Food contamination can also affect the economy and society, undermining food exports, tourism, livelihoods of food handlers, and economic growth both in developed and developing countries. Food contaminants are usually infectious or toxic in nature and are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances entering the body through contaminated food or water. When everyone is exposed to foodborne health risks, people living in poverty are the most exposed and vulnerable. Examples of unsafe food include uncooked foods of animal origin and fruits and vegetables contaminated with pesticides.

Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds Food safety is the scientific discipline describing the handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness. A food safety hazard is defined as any biological, chemical, or physical agent which would cause illness or injury in absence of control. Biological hazards are organisms or substances produced by organisms that pose a threat to human health. They’re a major concern and food because they cause foodborne illness outbreaks. These organisms can affect human health, including infection, intoxication, and even death with diarrhoea and vomiting the most common symptoms. Examples include salmonella, campylobacter, listeria, and E. coli. A chemical hazard is any chemical agent that has the potential to cause illness or injury.

Skip to 3 minutes and 1 second Chemical hazards in food can be classified into chemicals that occur naturally, chemicals that can be used in the formulation of your finished product, or chemicals that are unintentionally or accidentally present in your finished product. Chemical hazards include acrylamide, arsenic in rice, Bisphenol-A, dioxins, and heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium. Long-term health problems associated with chemical contaminants include cancer and neurological disorders. A physical hazard is any extraneous object or foreign matter in a food item which may cause illness or injury to a person consuming the product. Examples include bone or bone chips, glass, wood, faeces, plastic, sewage, waste, sand, gravel, soil, packaging, metal, or any foreign material not normally present in food products.

Skip to 4 minutes and 6 seconds Sources for such contamination include raw materials, badly maintained facilities and equipment, improper production procedures, and poor employee practises. Food safety hazards can be unintentionally introduced at any stage along the food chain from farm to fork. The food system is currently facing a number of challenges which need to be considered in order to ensure the safety of our food for all people across the globe. At present, the World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 1.2 billion people in the world are living in poverty. These individuals are forced to live in environments without decent shelter, clean water, or adequate sanitation. And they are the most exposed to foodborne health risks. Similarly, we are an ageing population.

Skip to 5 minutes and 0 seconds And elderly people are more vulnerable to foodborne disease and more likely to experience serious outcomes such as death. Change in lifestyles, urbanisation, and travel have resulted in changing consumer behaviours with more people eating convenience foods and consuming food outside of the home and migrant populations demanding traditional foods in their countries of settlement. By 2050, global food systems will need to feed and nourish more than 9 billion people in a safe, responsible, and sustainable way. It has been proposed that global food production will need to increase by 50% to feed this growing population, leading to greater intensification and industrialization of agriculture and food production. This could lead to food safety challenges.

Skip to 5 minutes and 54 seconds For example, an excessive use of veterinary medicines in animals or pesticides in plants could result in an increased amount of residues in food and contribute to antimicrobial resistance. Simultaneously, extreme climate and weather events due to climate change are predicted to impact food production, storage, and distribution systems. The Control Measures Initiative in response to climate change may generate new food safety problems due to the novelty of climate-induced issues, for example, new pest species and unfamiliarity of the sector, for example, farmers in dealing with them. It is important to understand how intensification of climate change will affect the provision of safe food and food safety practises across the food chain.

Skip to 6 minutes and 48 seconds Moreover, food and drink have become a global industry with many positive aspects, including access, affordability, and variety of food on the market. However, the integrity of increasingly complex food supply chains is often compromised. This is because the sourcing and transport of ingredients and products across a range of countries and supply chain players for raw materials, processing, and retail creates difficulties for surveillance and facilitates the transmission of foodborne diseases, hazards, and risks over longer distances and increases the number of opportunity for fraudulent activities.

Skip to 7 minutes and 34 seconds For example, in 2017 and ‘18, the contamination of ready-to-eat meat with listeria monocytogenes inside Africa resulted in 1,060 cases of listeriosis, 216 deaths, and an international risk management response because the contaminated product have been exported to 15 other countries in Africa. The challenges facing the food system are enormous, and the safety of food is a shared responsibility across the entire food system. Together, the food industry, government, academia, and consumers are all working to ensure the safety of the food we consume. Food safety legislation, control measures, and monitoring procedures are in place to minimise the risk of contamination and ensure the safety of our food.

Food Safety

Food is a basic human right necessary for optimal health and wellbeing. It is important that food is safe, that is, it is free from contaminants and will not cause illness or harm.

Food Borne Illnesses

The World Health Organisation estimates that 600 million people across the world fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 people die every year. The majority of these cases involve gastrointestinal issues, though they can also produce neurological, gynaecological and immunological symptoms. As a result, foodborne illnesses are a burden on public health and contribute significantly to the cost of health care. Food contamination can also affect the economy and society, undermining food exports, tourism, livelihoods of food handlers and economic growth, both in developed and developing countries.

Food Safety

Food safety is the scientific discipline describing the handling, preparation and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness. A food safety -hazard is defined as any biological, chemical or physical agent which could cause illness or injury in the absence of control. Food safety hazards can be introduced at any stage along the food chain, from farm to fork.

  • Biological Hazards

Biological hazards are organisms or substances produced by organisms that pose a threat to human health. Examples include salmonella, campylobacter, listeria and Escherichia coli.

  • Chemical Hazards

A chemical hazard is any chemical agent that has the potential to cause illness or injury. Chemical hazards include acrylamide, arsenic in rice, bisphenol-A (BPA), dioxins and heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium.

  • Physical Hazards

A physical hazard is any extraneous object or foreign matter in a food item which may cause illness or injury to a person consuming the product. Examples include: bone or bone chips, glass, wood, faeces, plastic, sewage, waste, sand, gravel, soil, packaging, metal or any foreign material not normally present in food products.

Food Safety is a Public Health Priority

The food system is currently facing a number of challenges which need to be considered in order to ensure the safety of our food for all people across the globe.

  • The WHO estimates that approx. 1.2 billion people are living in poverty, without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation are vulnerable to foodborne health risks
  • We are an aging population and elderly people are more vulnerable to foodborne disease and more likely to experience serious outcomes such as death.
  • Changing lifestyles, urbanisation and travel have resulted in changing consumer behaviours with more people eating convenience foods and consuming food outside of the home and migrant populations demanding tradition foods in the countries of settlement.
  • A rising population which requires increased food production, leading to greater intensification and industralisation of agriculture and animal production and associated food safety concerns (e.g. excessive use of veterinary medicines)
  • Climate change and the subseqent impact on food production, storage and distribution events and unfamiliarity of the sector in dealing with them
  • Complex and globalised food chains which creates difficulties for surveillance and facilitates the transmission of food safety risks over long distances

Food Safety is a Shared Responsibility

The challenges facing the food system are enormous and the safety of food is a shared responsibility across the entire food system. Together, the food industry, government, academia and consumers are all working to ensure the safety of the food we consume. Food safety legislation, control measures and monitoring procedures are in place to minimise the risk of contamination and ensure the safety of our food.

What we would like you to do

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below:

  • Have you ever had a foodborne illness?
  • What food did you eat to make you sick?

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This video is from the free online course:

Introduction to Food Science

EIT Food