The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have worked together to mark June 7th as the first ever World Food Safety Day (WFSD). This day is meant to highlight the risks of foodborne illness and food insecurity that threaten hundreds of millions of people every year. By calling attention to the issue, the WHO and the FAO want to bring food safety to the public eye. Collectively, we can help to fight foodborne illness and improve the health of people across the planet. As the FAO has said, “everyone has the right to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.”
Food security is essential to our future on this planet. One of the driving forces, climate change, has reduced food security for millions of people around the world, and has no indications that it is slowing down. This heightened crisis needs to be addressed, but also requires the help of organizations around the world.
Food security issues extend beyond food: from the most obvious of human health to impacts on tourism, access to a safe food network is critical to prosperity. In order to combat this growing threat, the WHO and the FAO have identified 3 effective food safety methods of reducing risk: prevention, detecting, and management of foodborne risks.
Food safety is best managed proactively. It is far more effective to anticipate and prevent a problem before it occurs, thus avoiding damage as a result of preventable issues. Too many organizations are ill-equipped to proactively identify excursions that lead to breakdowns in food safety practices. In many cases, food handlers are ill-trained for safe food practices, and in some cases have a minimal food safety management system (FSMS). In either case, implementing a plan that promotes safe food handling and distribution will help to stop foodborne illness from impacting unsuspecting consumers.
The FDA identified a FSMS as the #1 factor statistically correlated to preventing foodborne illness in restaurants. Check out the complete infographic here: https://info.smartsense.co/fda-report
A lack of visibility into food safety practices will significantly increase the risk of spreading disease. If foodservice organizations are not able to identify a problem and issue a resolution, the cause of foodborne illness will become a guessing game. Having confirmation of failure points throughout the food distribution chain will help to reduce the same error from occurring again, enabling foodservice organizations to learn from mistakes and grow their food safety strategy.
Managing foodborne illness risks should include the oversight of a certified food protection manager (CFPM). A trained professional will know how to identify and resolve issues in the food chain. While non-management roles are typically the people interacting directly with food, its important to have ownership from leaders who can help to create a culture of safety.
The burden of food safety is a responsibility for those who handle, process, or distribute food. This includes farmers and processors, but also extends to distributors, marketers, and finally consumers. Every point along the food chain must do its part to reduce foodborne illness risks, or else food safety will break down.
The FAO has recommended 5 calls to action to reduce foodborne illness risks. These concepts outline the importance of food safety in different points in the food production process, and identify opportunities for the food industry and consumers alike to help prevent foodborne illness.
Food safety, everyone’s business. The official World Food Safety Day (WFSD) banner. Source: http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/world-food-safety-day/2019-theme/en/
A critical role of the government is to ensure the safety of its citizens, which extends into foodservice. One of the first lines of defense in food safety are the laws and policies established to guarantee safe food practices. Regulatory agencies have the authority to enact laws that have a direct impact on consumers, and have been a significant force with reducing the number of foodborne illnesses each year.
It is especially important for agriculture, or any food producer, to employ safe food handling practices. Farming has changed dramatically. From new technology to population booms, growing safe food has become more challenging, especially in response to globalization and a significant increase in demand for certain foods. As food production continues to transform, food safety practices must be adapted appropriately to guarantee safe food for all.
As mentioned before, effective food safety does not exclusively fall under one point along the food chain. Consumer-facing businesses have the responsibility of processing and storing food responsibly. By ensuring that food is being held in accordance with recommended storage conditions, foodborne illness is minimized and unnecessary food loss is prevented.
Consumers must also due their part in making sure that food is safe and nutritious. Some of the major food safety milestones were a direct result of consumer awareness of food safety practices (ie. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which led to significant food safety legislation in the meatpacking industry). This does not, however, indicate that food safety ends before it reaches the consumer. Despite regulations and the goodwill of foodservice organizations, consumers must take it upon themselves to be aware of unhealthy habits and foodborne illness to help prevent the spread of disease.
Put simply, food safety is everyone's responsibility. The globalization of food has required collaboration across individuals and organizations who previously would have never interacted with each other. Every link in the food chain is critical to safe growing, handling, and processing of food. Let’s keep food safe, and keep foodborne illness at bay.
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