The World Health Organization wants its member governments to make food safety a public health priority, as they play a pivotal role in developing policies and regulatory frameworks and establishing and implementing effective food safety systems.

The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.

It says food handlers and consumers need to understand how to safely handle food and practicing the WHO Five keys to safer food at home, or when selling at restaurants or at local markets. Food producers can safely grow fruits and vegetables using the WHO Five keys to growing safer fruits and vegetables.

WHO plans to strengthen national food control systems to facilitate global prevention, detection and response to public health threats associated with unsafe food. To do this, WHO supports member countries by:

  • providing independent scientific assessments on microbiological and chemical hazards that form the basis for international food standards, guidelines, and recommendations, known as the Codex Alimentarius;
  • assessing the performance of national food control systems throughout the entire food chain, identifying priority areas for further development, and measuring and evaluating progress over time through the FAO/WHO food control system assessment tool;  
  • assessing the safety of new technologies used in food production, such as genetic modification, cultivated food products and nanotechnology;
  • helping implement adequate infrastructure to manage food safety risks and respond to food safety emergencies through the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN); 
  • promoting safe food handling through systematic disease prevention and awareness programmes, through the WHO Five keys to safer food message and training materials; 
  • advocating for food safety as an important component of health security and for integrating food safety into national policies and programmes in line with theInternational Health Regulations (IHR 2005);
  • monitoring regularly the global burden of foodborne and zoonotic diseases at national, regional and international levels, and supporting countries to estimate the national burden of foodborne diseases; and
  • updating the WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety (2022–2030) to support Member States to strengthen their national food control systems and reduce the burden of foodborne diseases.

WHO works closely with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and other international organizations to ensure food safety along the entire food chain from production to consumption.

An evolving world and food safety
According to WHO, safe food supplies support national economies, trade and tourism, contribute to food and nutrition security, and underpin sustainable development.

It says WHO’s organization and changes in consumer habits have increased the number of people buying and eating food prepared in public places. Globalization has triggered growing consumer demand for a wider variety of foods, resulting in an increasingly complex and longer global food chain. Climate change is also predicted to impact food safety.

WHO says these challenges put greater responsibility on food producers and handlers to ensure food safety. Local incidents can quickly evolve into international emergencies due to the speed and range of product distribution. 

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, WHO has six regional offices and 150 field offices worldwide.

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