Food safety and foodborne diseases are one of four themes covered in an FAO report on products of animal origin. FAO is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

FAO’s Committee on Agriculture (COAG) asked the FAO to produce an assessment on the contribution of livestock to food security, sustainable food systems, nutrition, and healthy diets. The first part focuses on the downstream impacts of terrestrial animal source food consumption as part of healthy diets. It covers four areas including food safety and foodborne diseases as well as emerging issues.

The Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) of the World Health Organization (WHO) analyzed 31 hazards and estimated that they caused 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths in 2010. Updated figures are expected by 2025.

One-third of the global foodborne disease burden is associated with the consumption of contaminated terrestrial animal source food (TASF), according to the report.

TASFs may support microbial growth and can become contaminated at any stage along the value chain, from primary production to manufacture, distribution, and retailing, or through handling during preparation and consumption.

A changing sector

While evidence on foodborne disease hazards and health outcomes, and on risk analysis methods are well documented, knowledge of their national burden in terms of incidence and severity is lacking, said experts.

Food products covered include eggs and egg products; milk and dairy products; meat products; food from hunting and wildlife farming; and insects and insect products.

The section on food safety details biological, chemical, and physical hazards, parasites, viruses, pesticide and veterinary medicine residues, natural toxins, environmental contaminants, risk analysis, and One Health.

Changing agricultural practices such as the intensification of livestock production and input use, the lengthening and broadening of value chains, and growing consumption of processed food contribute to increased exposure to foodborne hazards, found the report.

TASFs are traded in formal, regulated markets and in local, unregulated markets. Informal markets, especially wet markets, have been linked to the emergence of zoonotic pathogens. Public pressure is driving regulators to increase scrutiny of markets and enforce food safety standards. Interventions to ensure the safe and hygienic operation of food markets can mitigate risks associated with live animals and their products said the report.

Improving the situation

Experts said food safety issues can be tackled by enhancing sanitation, investing in education, and strengthening national control systems. Factors to help mitigate foodborne diseases include risk-based approaches to food safety management, regulations that specify and enforce food safety requirements, provision of an enabling environment, and adoption of the One Health approach.

Surveillance systems that facilitate the collection of country-specific epidemiological data and support updated foodborne disease burden estimates are required, especially for developing countries. Risk assessment studies that inform prioritization and decision-making are lacking, as are traceability and food recall tools, according to the report.

In terms of emerging topics, further research is needed to complete food safety risk assessments for cell-cultured meat produced at an industrial scale, and food safety concerns should be considered in the scaling up of insects as food or animal feed.

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