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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.
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Introduction to Food Science
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.
- Allergenic Hazards
Allergenic contamination occurs when a food that causes an allergic reaction comes into contact with another food. Food businesses must inform you under law if they use any of the 14 allergens as ingredients in the food and drink they provide. These 14 allergens have been identified by food law as the most potent and prevalent allergens. If a food is contaminanted by one of the 14 allergens and it is not labelled, this is a food safety hazard.
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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Introduction to Food Science
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