Preventing food safety incidents before they occur is essential to protecting the food chain with most crises avoidable with timely actions and the right investments, according to the FAO.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations believes early warning, prevention and rapid response can make a difference when threats arise. Foodborne diseases place a significant burden on public health and often disrupt trade.
Investing in prevention of food safety threats is more cost-effective and protective of people’s livelihoods and the environment than to respond to fully developed food crises, added the agency.
Surveillance, early detection and warning, and timely response combined with capacity development, coordination, and communication are components of the FAO approach to prevent food safety incidents.
How handles food chain threats
FAO addresses threats through the Food Chain Crisis Management Framework – Emergency Prevention System (FCC-EMPRES) and publishes monthly information. The Food Chain Crisis – Intelligence and Coordination unit (FCC-ICU) anticipates short- and medium-term threats to the food chain.
In a second edition rounding up monthly FCC-EMPRES information sheets, the agency shared lessons of the past two years on prevention and control of high impact animal and aquatic diseases, and food safety incidents.
In an environment of climate change and global marketing of agricultural products, diseases, pests and threats to the food chain are increasing, so efforts must be made to prevent them from being introduced and spreading to new environments.
Without measures to prevent, alert, prepare for, respond to and recover from food chain crises, transboundary threats have an increasingly disastrous impact on the livelihoods of vulnerable families and global food supply safety and availability.
The rapid globalization of production and trade, combined with growing complexity of the food chain, means risks posed by unsafe foods have the potential to quickly evolve from a local problem to an international incident, in a short period.
FAO promotes efforts for cost-effective preventive measures rather than more expensive control, disinfestation, treatment and disposal actions. When preventive measures are late or difficult, preparedness and contingency plans must be in place to enable rapid response.
One of the ways it helps to prevent food safety emergencies is through the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), which has 600 members from 190 countries.
The network, run by the FAO and World Health Organization (WHO), responded to 84 incidents during 2016 and 2017 and 83 events in 2018. It has been involved with 50 so far this year.
In April 2017, INFOSAN organized an online simulation exercise for some African countries, to practice emergency preparedness and response for foodborne outbreaks using E. coli O157 infections linked to internationally distributed fruit and nut snack mixes.
The second global meeting of INFOSAN will take place from Dec. 9 to 11, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It will bring together members to provide an overview of INFOSAN and underline the importance of the network in strengthening countries’ capacities to respond to food-related health emergencies.
Improving food safety in Iraq
Meanwhile, FAO representatives in Iraq with FAO regional office for Near East and North Africa colleagues were involved in a two-day consultation on strengthening the food control system in the country at the end of July.
The workshop looked at improving the system, institutional oversight and technical capabilities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Health and Planning, Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Trade to propose activities to improve food control functions.
It was attended by 39 people from relevant Iraqi ministries. Following group discussions, participants prioritized needs for capacity building which will guide future investment and improvement of the national food control system to meet international food safety standards.
Salah El Hajj Hassan, FAO Representative in Iraq, said the main objective of the workshop was to discuss strengths, weaknesses and mechanisms to collect and analyze information to boost the food control system.
“The key question is how to address the relevant stakeholders’ capacities and introduce an integrated food safety system in Iraq. The common review and analysis of food control system competencies in Iraq will inform what actions and funding are required to achieve a sustainable food safety control system in Iraq,”
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