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Food & Beverage Reporter Jan-Feb 2016 FOOD & BEVERAGE REPORTER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 | 13 FOOD SAFETY T hirty percent of all deaths from foodborne diseases are children under the age of five, despite the fact that they make up just 9% of the global population. This is one of the findings of a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases, the most comprehensive report to date on the impact of contaminated food on health and wellbeing. The report, which focuses on the burden of foodborne diseases caused by 31 agents – bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals – says as many as 600-million, or almost 1 in 10 people in the world, fall ill each year after consuming contaminated food. Of these, 420 000 people die, including 125 000 children under the age of five. Diarrhoeal diseases are responsible for more than half of the global burden of foodborne diseases, causing 550-million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year. Children are at particular risk of foodborne diarrhoeal diseases, with 220-million falling ill and 96 000 dying every year. Diarrhoea is often caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, fresh produce and dairy products contaminated by norovirus, Campylobacter, non-typhoidal Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli. Other major contributors to the global burden of foodborne diseases are typhoid fever, hepatitis A, Taenia solium (a tapeworm), and aflatoxin. Certain diseases, such as those caused by non-typhoidal Salmonella, are a public health concern across all regions of the world, in high- and low-income countries alike, says WHO. Other diseases, such as typhoid fever, foodborne cholera, and those caused by pathogenic E. coli, are much more common to low-income countries, while Campylobacter is a pathogen often found in high-income countries. The risk of foodborne diseases is most severe in low- and middle-income countries, linked to preparing food with unsafe water, poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage, lower levels of literacy and education, and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation. Food safety is a shared responsibility, says WHO. The report’s findings, it says, underscore the global threat posed by foodborne diseases and reinforce the need for governments, the food industry and individuals to do more to make food safe and prevent foodborne diseases. “There remains a significant need for education and training on the prevention of foodborne diseases among food producers, suppliers, handlers and the general public.” Meanwhile, at a follow-up symposium to the release of the WHO report, in Amsterdam in December, delegates were given a blunt message: “If it isn’t safe, it isn’t food.” The message came from Markus Lipp, senior food safety officer, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. Delegates heard that in the past food safety risks were mostly localized, but today food safety is a truly worldwide problem as food production has gone increasingly global; the food supply chain has become so complex for certain foods that it is now considered a “supply web”, and protecting the public from health risks has become a daunting task. Analysts identified another trend driving concerns about food safety: consumers demanding more information about their food purchases, not just provenance but, in particular, the effects on health of chemical and pharmaceutical contaminants such as pesticides, herbicides, residual solvents, mycotoxins, and heavy metals. Not surprisingly, consumers would like zero contaminants in their food, but, as Dr Jonathan De Vries points out in a recent article for the Institute of Food Technologists, “zero is a moving target”. That’s due to continuous advances in analytical techniques that can detect ever-smaller quantities of contaminants, says De Vries, a senior principal scientist at General Mills. Notes US toxicologist Dr Claire Kruger, president of Spherix Consulting, in the same article: It’s cold comfort for consumers to know that “no food is completely safe”, and “even water can kill you if you drink too much”. She says that in terms of food safety, everything we eat comes in “shades of gray, not black or white” because all foods have the potential to cause harm. New UN report exposes huge numbers of people made ill by foodborne disease and highlights contamination challenges in the global food supply web. Foodborne killers It’s the kids who bear the brunt Africa’s food nasties According to the WHO report, Africa has the highest burden of foodborne diseases per capita. More than 91 million people are estimated to fall ill and 137 000 die each year. Diarrhoeal diseases are responsible for 70% of foodborne diseases in the African region. Non-typhoidal Salmonella, which can be caused by contaminated eggs and poultry, causes the most deaths, killing 32 000 a year — more than half of the global deaths from the disease. Ten percent of the overall foodborne disease burden in Africa is caused by Taenia solium (the pork tapeworm). Chemical hazards, specifically cyanide and aflatoxin, cause one quarter of deaths from foodborne diseases in Africa. 420000 people die, including 125000 people to fall ill and 230000 deaths 220-million falling ill and 96000 dying 137000 die each year. contaminated eggs and poultry, causes the most deaths, killing 32000 a year

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