Photo by Maura Griesse

One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is: how safe is the food we eat? From the farm to our plate, the process of how we get our food is an important conduit to self-nourishment and is a process that has experienced extraordinary change over the past 50 years. The food supply chain is now exceptionally intricate and with this complexity comes additional risk. Now, there are many more touch points in which food can become contaminated and it is essential that standards are implemented globally for worldwide safety.

how safe is the food we eat?

World Health Day is on April 7th and this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has selected food safety as its priority area of global health concern. The effects of unsafe food are more than what meets the eye. According to the WHO, over 200 diseases are caused by unsafe food and the number of deaths from both that and of unsafe water amounts to an estimated 2 million each year. Regionally, developing countries aren’t the only areas susceptible to this contamination—all countries can be indirectly affected with negative backlash occurring in food exports, tourism, livelihoods of food handlers, and other financial operations that drive economic development.

So who is charged with the task of ensuring that the world’s population has safe food to consume? When it comes to food safety, the subject is both multisectoral and multidisciplinary—requiring a number of experts and technological resources in several different areas like public health, agriculture, education, and trade. The issue certainly requires international collaboration and these organizations are in diligent pursuit of solutions to help food make it safely to our homes.

International Food Safety Authorities Network
The World Health Organization doesn’t only bring awareness to the issue of food safety, but also drives change in this arena by working in its target areas of foodborne diseases, food hygiene, food technologies, microbiological risks, chemical risks, and international food standards. One way it does this is through the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN)—a joint effort with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With national authorities from WHO member countries, its goal is to stop the spread of contaminated food from between countries, which of course, is increasingly important with global food trade. INFOSAN is a key organization in spreading information quickly when food emergencies occur as well as the results obtained through testing in countries around the world.

International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council
When it comes to securing food globally, the International Food & Agricultural Policy Council (IPC) is a nonprofit organization that is on the forefront of the efforts for pragmatic change. Based in Washington, D.C., IPC connects the industry’s important and influential parties from around the world—policymakers, executives in the agribusiness sector, leaders in farming, and academics—to make policy recommendations that are achievable and that make a significant change.

So who is charged with the task of ensuring that the world’s population has safe food to consume?

Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists
The study of epidemiology involves controlling diseases and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) is dedicated to helping public health. It focuses on not only supporting professionals in that field, but also uses its expertise in areas like infectious diseases and environmental health to provide advice to organizations. Its food safety subcommittee is comprised of public health professionals and along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, created the Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak and Response—a group that works on a number of epidemiology-based projects in the U.S. 

World Organisation for Animal Health
Animal diseases have a direct correlation to food safety and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is an organization that uses science and information to prevent their rapid spread. Headquartered in Paris, France, its delegates across the world work to ensure that countries practice international standards. Member countries are also responsible for reporting info related to global animal disease, which OIE can then distribute to other countries. This global transparency allows countries to take the necessary precautions to safeguard their populations.

Codex Alimentarius Commission
OIE works directly with Codex Alimentarius Commission—the body that has maintained the international guidelines that govern food safety legislature since 1963. It includes over 99% of the world’s population and its meetings often focus on biotechnology, pesticides, food additives, and contaminants. Codex is an especially huge source of relief for developing countries. The Codex Trust Fund helps these countries participate in Codex, granting them access to resources that improve their food safety procedures while also giving them the opportunity to participate in world markets.

Although these organizations work to safeguard food in the earlier stages of the supply chain, consumers still have a responsibility. For a list of precautions to take once food is in your care, read WHO’s Five Keys to Safer Food Manual.

Learn more about World Health Organization (WHO)
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