The first-ever World Food Safety Day, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018, will be celebrated on 7 June 2019 under the theme “Food Safety, everyone’s business”.
Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health. Foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems and harming national economies, tourism and trade.
Foodborne illnesses are usually infectious or toxic in nature and caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances entering the body through contaminated food or water.
Foodborne pathogens can cause severe diarrhoea or debilitating infections including meningitis.
- Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli are among the most common foodborne pathogens that affect millions of people annually – sometimes with severe and fatal outcomes. Symptoms are fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
Examples of foods involved in outbreaks of salmonellosis are eggs, poultry and other products of animal origin.
Foodborne cases with Campylobacter are mainly caused by raw milk, raw or undercooked poultry and drinking water.
Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli is associated with unpasteurized milk, undercooked meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Listeria infection leads to unplanned abortions in pregnant women or death of newborn babies.
Listeria is found in unpasteurised dairy products and various ready-to-eat foods and can grow at refrigeration temperatures.
- Vibrio cholerae infects people through contaminated water or food. Symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting and profuse watery diarrhoea, which may lead to severe dehydration and possibly death.
Rice, vegetables, millet gruel and various types of seafood have been implicated in cholera outbreaks.
Antimicrobials, such as antibiotics, are essential to treat infections caused by bacteria. However, their overuse and misuse in veterinary and human medicine has been linked to the emergence and spread of resistant bacteria, rendering the treatment of infectious diseases ineffective in animals and humans. Resistant bacteria enter the food chain through the animals (e.g. Salmonella through chickens). Antimicrobial resistance is one of the main threats to modern medicine.
- Norovirus infections are characterized by nausea, explosive vomiting, watery diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
- Hepatitis A virus can cause long-lasting liver disease and spreads typically through raw or undercooked seafood or contaminated raw produce. Infected food handlers are often the source of food contamination.
- Some parasites, such as fish-borne trematodes, are only transmitted through food.
- Tapeworms like Echinococcus spp, or Taenia solium, may infect people through food or direct contact with animals.
- Other parasites, such as Ascaris, Cryptosporidium, Entamoeba histolytica or Giardia, enter the food chain via water or soil and can contaminate fresh produce.
Of most concern for health are naturally occurring toxins and environmental pollutants.
- Naturally occurring toxins include mycotoxins, marine biotoxins, cyanogenic glycosides and toxins occurring in poisonous mushrooms.
Staple foods like corn or cereals can contain high levels of mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin and ochratoxin, produced by mould on grain.
Long-term exposure can affect the immune system and normal development, or cause cancer.
- Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are compounds that accumulate in the environment and human body. Known examples are dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are unwanted by-products of industrial processes and waste incineration.
Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer.
- Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury cause neurological and kidney damage.
Contamination by heavy metal in food occurs mainly through pollution of air, water and soil.
Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health.
Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
An estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs).
Children under 5 years of age carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, with 125 000 deaths every year.
Diarrhoeal diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year.
Food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick.
Foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade.
Food supply chains now cross multiple national borders. Good collaboration between governments, producers and consumers helps ensure food safety.
Food safety is key to achieving several UN Sustainable Development Goals and is a shared responsibility between governments, producers and consumers. Everybody has a role to play from farm to table to ensure the food we consume is safe and will not damage our health.
Food can become contaminated at any point of production and distribution, and the primary responsibility lies with food producers. Yet a large proportion of foodborne disease incidents are caused by foods improperly prepared or mishandled at home, in food service establishments or markets. Not all food handlers and consumers understand the roles they must play, such as adopting basic hygienic practices when buying, selling and preparing food to protect their health and that of the wider community.
Everyone can contribute to making food safe. Here are some examples of effective actions:
- build and maintain adequate food systems and infrastructures (e.g. laboratories) to respond to and manage food safety risks along the entire food chain, including during emergencies;
- foster multi-sectoral collaboration among public health, animal health, agriculture and other sectors for better communication and joint action;
- integrate food safety into broader food policies and programmes (e.g. nutrition and food security);
- think globally and act locally to ensure the food produce domestically be safe internationally.
Food handlers and consumers can:
- know the food they use (read labels on food package, make an informed choice, become familiar with common food hazards);
- handle and prepare food safely, practicing the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food at home, or when selling at restaurants or at local markets;
- grow fruits and vegetables using the WHO Five Keys to Growing Safer Fruits and Vegetables to decrease microbial contamination.
Link to the World Food Safety Day campaign website:
Link to WHO fact sheet on Food Safety:
Link to Campaign videos: