Food Safety – OVERVIEW

What are some diseases that unsafe food can cause?
Food that is contaminated during transport and packaging or during production can carry harmful pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and even chemical substances. The ingestion of contaminated food causes a range of over 200 foodborne diseases – ranging from abdominal pain to cancers. The most prevalent of the foodborne diseases are diarrhoeal diseases, accounting for more than half of the mortalities attributed to unsafe food. Salmonella from poultry or animal origins, is an example of a bacterial contaminant that affects millions globally, with symptoms ranging from diarrhoea to death.


Why does it matter?
Developed countries like Australia, were brought up with the expectation that safe and nutritious food will always be in easy access but this does not ring true for those in the developing world. There is a large disparity in access to safe food when comparing those in the developing world to those in the developed. With over 420 000 total related deaths annually, it is not surprising that food safety should be a priority for global health. It is estimated that children under 5 years of age make up more than 40% of the global burden.

Food related diseases not only impede on the health systems of affected countries but also have significantly strained their socioeconomic development. Examples can be seen in the countries of the south-east Asia region, as they commonly eat unsafe street food that leads to malnutrition and disease. Vietnam is one such country. The Vietnam Food Administration is now attempting to stop this vicious cycle of disease by implementing five conditions that street vendors must abide by. These conditions have been enforced through educating the vendors on food hygiene and by monitoring vendors via inspections. Thus poor food safety leads to a vicious cycle of malnutrition and disease, furthering socioeconomic and health care problems.

What must change?
The World Health Organisation has just released their estimates on the Global Burden of Foodborne diseases and have highlighted that foodborne diseases like Salmonella should be a public health priority. Luckily foodborne disease are preventable but change must occur now. The measures for prevention revolve around education of all food handlers and consumers on safe food handling.  WHO have joined with the United Nations to establish the Sustainable Development goals, with food safety being pivotal to its success. WHO have established the 5 keys to safer food programme to assist countries in introducing behavioural change towards food hygiene.


They have been developed to educate food handlers on the prevention of foodborne diseases, targeting those in food production, distribution, services and even consumers. There are many challenges in the future as industrialisation and an increasing population fuels climate change and thus alters the environmental impact of safe food production and handling. However governments can contribute to the needed change by forming food systems and infrastructure to maintain food safety standards across the globe whilst integrating policies via joint communication of multiple sectors of the agricultural and health systems. The future of food safety can be significantly improved if governments work together with consumers and food handlers to stop the vicious cycle of unsafe food, malnutrition and foodborne disease.


  1. World Health Organization. Food Safety [Internet]. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015 Dec [cited 2017 Feb 8]. Available from:
  2. Nurmi E, Rantala M. New aspects of Salmonella infection in broiler production. Nature. 1973 Jan;241:210-1.
  3. Food Safety Government (US). Salmonella [Internet]. U S Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health; [cited 2017 Feb 8]. Available from:
  4. Henson S, Brouder AM, Mitullah W. Food safety requirements and food exports from developing countries: the case of fish exports from Kenya to the European Union. American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 2000 Dec 1;82(5):1159-69.
  5. Reardon T, Codron JM, Busch L, Bingen J, Harris C. Global change in agrifood grades and standards: agribusiness strategic responses in developing countries. The International Food and Agribusiness Management Review. 2000 Feb 29;2(3):421-35.
  6. Resolution WH. 63.3. Advancing food safety initiatives. Sixty-third World Health Assembly, Geneva. 2010 May;20.

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