World Health Day 2015 – How safe is your food?


Every year since 1950 – the birthday of the World Health Organization (WHO), World Health Day is celebrated on 7 April in order to draw attention to a current global public health issue. Food Safety is this year’s theme, and WHO aims to pass the message that everyone from governments, farmers, producers, food handlers, vendors, and consumers can contribute to help make food safer.

Any point of production and distribution can be a source of food contamination, so food producers are mainly responsible. However, improper preparation of food at home, in food service establishments, or markets causes food-born disease incidents. Therefore, it is crucial everyone involved in the food production chain – from farmers and manufacturers to vendors and consumers – to adopt basic hygienic practices when buying, selling, and preparing food in order to protect public health and their own.

The main causes of food borne illnesses are usually pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites which can lead to severe diarrhea or debilitating infections including meningitis. Chemical substances entering the body through contaminated food or water can result in acute poisoning or long-term diseases such as cancer. Additionally, uncooked meat meals, fruits, and vegetables contaminated with feces, and raw shellfish containing marine bio toxins and heavy metals are some examples of unsafe food.

As the world’s population increases rapidly, food supplies cross multiple national borders before they get to our plates. It is a fact that unsafe food is a global health threat, which puts in great danger infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with an underlying illness. A characteristic example is the contamination of infant formula with melamine in 2008 which killed 6 young children and affected 300,000 infants in China alone. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 2 million people die annually of food-borne and waterborne diarrhea diseases worldwide, with most victims coming from Africa and Asia. Consequently, governments, producers, and consumers have to collaborate to ensure food safety, as it is a shared responsibility.

Towards this goal, WHO has announced a “Five keys to safer food” practical guidance to food handlers, vendors, and consumers for handling and preparing food:

  • Key 1: Keep clean
  • Key 2: Separate raw and cooked food
  • Key 3: Cook food thoroughly
  • Key 4: Keep food at safe temperatures
  • Key 5: Use safe water and raw materials.

World Health Day 2015 is a great opportunity for the WHO to inform people worldwide how to improve food safety from farm to plate (and everywhere in between), and what role each can play in preventing, detecting, and responding to food-borne disease outbreaks.

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About the author

Irini Chassioti is a teacher and chemist with a master’s degree in Environmental Chemistry and Technology. She was born and raised in the northern suburbs of Athens and is an active member of the local city improvement association. Her activities include the protection of the local ecosystem, writing scientific articles related to environment, ecology and sustainable development and the education of pupils on environmental issues.