The World Health Organization (WHO) has set out a plan that it hopes will help reduce the burden of foodborne disease.

WHO officially launched its food safety strategy for 2022 to 2030 this week and pledged support for countries to implement it. The agency was asked to update a 2002 document in 2020.

Every year, one in 10 people globally fall ill due to foodborne diseases and 420,000 die. Contaminated food can cause over 200 diseases, and the public health burden is comparable to malaria or HIV AIDS. Children under 5 years old are at higher risk, as one in six deaths from diarrhea are caused by unsafe food.

Measuring progress
The plan sets concrete targets on the burden of foodborne illness with a 40 percent reduction by 2030 in the global average of foodborne diarrheal diseases incidence estimated per 100,000 population from a 2010 baseline of 4,154 cases per 100,000 population.

WHO said aiming for such a reduction was a “good balance between feasibility and aspiration”.

Two other indicators measure national capacities to detect and manage food safety incidents.

The strategy has been developed to support countries in their efforts to prioritize, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate actions aimed at reducing the burden of foodborne diseases by strengthening food safety systems.

An update was requested due to more environmental challenges, new digital technology, demographic changes and changing expectations around food. However, systems in many countries face challenges and need significant improvements in regulatory infrastructure, enforcement and surveillance, food inspection and laboratory capacity and capability, coordination to prevent and manage events, and food safety education and training.

Five priorities include strengthening national food control systems, improving the use of food chain information, scientific evidence and risk assessment in making risk management decisions and promoting food safety as an essential component in domestic, regional and international trade.

Progress will be tracked with the first report to the World Health Assembly in 2024 and every two years until 2030. To judge implementation of the strategy, in 2025 and 2030 updated numbers will be published on foodborne diarrheal disease estimated incidence per 100,000 population.

Other ongoing work
Almost 100 comments were submitted while the strategy was in draft format from governments or ministries, the private sector, NGOs and academic institutions and other United Nations agencies. 

A baseline survey with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), part of the World Bank Group, to adapt an existing tool to assess food safety policies and measure implementation of the strategy, will be available in early 2023.

Discussions are also ongoing about reviving the Global Foodborne Infections Network (GFN), which was launched in 2000, to help strengthen laboratory-based foodborne disease surveillance.

A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) strategy on food safety from 2022 to 2031 is also set to be published later this year, revising a 2014 version.

An update to the global burden estimates for foodborne diseases, first published in 2015, will be completed in 2025 by the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG).

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