Regional WHO and FAO offices in Asia, the Americas and Africa highlighted their work on safe food to mark World Food Safety Day this past week.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is helping countries in the Americas strengthen food control systems. PAHO, through actions coordinated by the Pan American Center for Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Veterinary Public Health (PANAFTOSA), is working with nations in Latin America and the Caribbean on standards and regulations, education and communication, surveillance, inspection, and laboratories.

Although the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic is not transmitted by food, the outbreak has highlighted related issues such as hygiene, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases, climate change, and food fraud, according to officials. It has also identified vulnerabilities in production and control systems of supply chains at global, regional and local levels, said PAHO.

World Food Safety Day on June 7 promoted actions that help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks. Eating food contaminated by bacteria, parasites, chemical contaminants and biotoxins can trigger a range of reactions from diarrhea to death.

Tourism impact
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year 77 million people are affected by and more than 9,000 die of a foodborne disease in the Americas alone.

Foodborne infections account for $7.4 billion per year in productivity losses for society, overloading health systems and reducing economic development because of a lack of confidence in safe tourism, food production and the marketing system, according to data from the World Bank.

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has implemented a near real-time surveillance method called the Tourism and Health Information System (THiS). This system provides an early-warning and mitigation of foodborne outbreaks at Caribbean hotels and stay-in accommodations.

Foodborne diseases are a priority for the Caribbean’s travel and tourism sector. This sector contributes 40 percent to 60 percent of the Gross Domestic Product for some countries in the region. CARPHA has trained more than 600 facilities in use of the tool.

In the Caribbean, 1 in 49 people fall ill every year from a foodborne disease. At mass gatherings, such as carnivals and family events for the holidays, 1 in 11 people become sick. Countries are estimated to spend $21 million annually to manage and address foodborne infections. Norovirus, Campylobacter, Giardia and Salmonella contribute the greatest burden of illness and hospitalization. Diseases from seafood, like vibriosis and ciguatera are health concerns faced by some Caribbean states.

CARPHA has also trained and built capacity in member states for sampling, testing, disease investigation and risk communication and is currently scaling up surveillance and response measures for food illnesses.

Asia Pacific focuses on One Health
The Asia Pacific regional offices of five organizations — FAO, OIE, UNEP, WFP and WHO — used the World Food Safety Day to promote the One Health approach to food safety.

A regional webinar was attended by more than 400 participants from 69 countries. Experts gave perspectives on how hazards and contaminants across supply chains such as heavy metals and pesticides find their way into food and have affected human, plant, animal and environmental health.

They emphasized the main causes of foodborne illnesses in the region were pathogens and that heightened hygienic and sanitary measures due to COVID-19 are expected to have positive related effects for food safety in the long term. Consumer awareness and education and training a new generation of food safety professionals were highlighted as priorities.

Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, said in recent years the region has achieved sustained progress to enhance food safety.

“All member states have established a National Codex Committee to advise government on Codex standards, codes of practice and guidelines. The world’s food systems are fragile. Food ingredients often come from multiple countries, with each item having travelled thousands of kilometers from a field, farm or factory. Contamination at one end of the food chain can affect populations on the other side of the world,” Singh said.

Singh also mentioned the Framework for Action on Food Safety, launched in 2020. The tool highlights the need for countries to develop a national policy and strategic plan on food safety and the value of ongoing monitoring and evaluation of national food control systems.

African perspective
In Nigeria, the story of a 48-year-old fisherman in Andoni, Rivers State who fell ill after eating contaminated moi-moi, a local delicacy made from beans, was highlighted.

The Minister of State for Health, Adeleke Mamora, said production and consumption of safe food has a long-term benefit to society in general.

“One of the major pillars of universal health coverage is disease prevention and one of the major ways of disease prevention is food safety. Just as the other nations of the world are looking at modernizing their food safety structure to meet required international standards, the government in 2015 launched the national policy on food safety and its implementation strategy as well as inaugurated food committee to ensure that food produced and sold in Nigeria is safe and wholesome for consumption,” Mamora said.

WHO trained 345 women from Edo and Ondo states on food hygiene and domestic sanitation and is helping federal and state agencies integrate food safety into policies and programs.

Walter Kazadi Mulombo, WHO representative to Nigeria, talked about the need to strengthen One Health connections through food safety and called upon Nigeria to enforce safe food measures in all settings and sectors.

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