WHO develops handbook to improve food safety and protect people from disease

AdobeStock 160573622The World Health Organisation (WHO) has developed a handbook to help countries measure their foodborne disease burden and identify food safety system needs and data gaps so they can strengthen national infrastructure and better protect people’s health

Every year 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses are reported. In 2010, 420,000 people died due to such diseases as salmonella and E.coli infection, a third of them children under five years of age. It is estimated that this figure is increasing year after year, but it is difficult to get a clear picture of the real impact foodborne diseases are having around the world.

“Food should sustain and support human health, not harm it,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “WHO’s new handbook will help countries to collect and analyse data to inform sustained investments in food safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the intimate links between the health of humans, animals and the planet that sustains us. WHO will continue to work with partners with a One Health approach to keep communities safe from foodborne disease.”

In 2020, the World Health Assembly adopted a new resolution mandating WHO to monitor the global burden of foodborne and zoonotic diseases at national, regional and international levels and to report on the global burden of foodborne diseases with up-to-date estimates of global foodborne disease incidence, mortality and disease burden by 2025.

The organisation is reconvening its foodborne disease burden epidemiology reference group (WHO FERG) with 26 new international experts. The group’s main functions are to advise WHO on methodologies to estimate the global burden of foodborne diseases, to monitor global food safety indicators and measure the progress being made in food safety.

There are more than 250 different food hazards that cause various health issues such as acute or long-term illness or even death. In 2015, the previous FERG helped WHO publish a historic report that revealed, for the first time, the global public health burden of foodborne diseases based on 31 foodborne hazards.  The report showcased the massive health impact of unsafe food and highlighted the need for strong and sustained action.

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