By Cheruto Valentine

With the need of raising global attention to the dangers of foodborne diseases and coming up with effective solutions, the United Nations has instigated the first World Food Safety Day.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 91 million people in Africa in a year consume contaminated food that renders them ill, and around 137,000 people die. Food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances causes diseases ranging from acute diarrhea to lifelong conditions, including some cancers.

The severity of foodborne diseases is higher in low and middle income countries. This can be attributed to preparing food with unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage; lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation. In 2015, an estimated 159 million people were still collecting drinking water directly from surface water sources. Of this total, 58 percent reside in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Unsafe food also hinders development in many low and middle-income economies, which lose around 95 billion dollars in productivity associated with illness, disability and premature death suffered by workers. This is in addition to the US$15 billion in medical expenses that households in low and middle income economies spend each year because of unsafe food,” WHO said in its statement on Friday.

It is due to this health burden and extensive economic loss that the first ever United Nations World Food Safety Day was celebrated on Friday, 7th June. This will be commemorated annually.

According to WHO, World Food Safety Day is a day set aside to highlight the need for better prevention, detection and management of foodborne risks.

“Foodborne diseases are completely preventable. All players along the food chain have a role in making food safe, beginning with producers and processors and moving to distributors, food safety regulators, retailers and eventually servers and consumers,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

In Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya, WHO has over the past few years supported laboratory-based foodborne disease surveillance. In addition, it continues to build national capacity to prevent, detect and respond to food safety emergencies through the strengthening of national networks and participation in the International Food Safety Authorities Network.

WHO is also joining forces with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in order to assist countries in the prevention, management and response to risks along the food supply chain.

“The agencies will be working with food producers and vendors, regulatory authorities and civil society stakeholders, whether the food is domestically produced or imported,” the statement read.

WHO is also working with around 10 African countries to target food safety health promotion initiatives to promote food hygiene in different settings, such as schools and food markets, and for infant and young child feeding practices.