Health impact of unsafe food

Maintain hygiene; separate raw and cooked foods; cook thoroughly; cool and keep food at safe temperatures; use safe water and raw materials-these are some crucial elements to keep food safe and nutritious, and the same has been highlighted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which will be observing April 7 as World Health Day .

“Globally, the health impact of unsafe food includes vicious cycles of disease and malnutrition particularly affecting most vulnerable. Notably, food containing harmful bacteria, viruses or chemical substances is responsible for over 200 diseases, from diarrhoea to cancer,” Dr Asheena Khalakdina, WHO Country Office for India, told Metrolife, listing food and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases, which kill an estimated two million people, mostly children, annually.

Ironically, food even leads to non-communicable diseases too.  “Foods rich in trans fats, saturated fats, sugar, salt or sodium increases the risk of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. Therefore, food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked,” Khalakdina said at a conference organised by WHO along with Ministry of Health and Family Welfare  (MoHFW), recently.

Unsafe food has non-health impact too. “Foodborne diseases have negative economic consequences for individuals, families, communities, businesses and countries. They impose substantial burden on health care systems, trade and tourism, reduce economic productivity and threaten livelihood,” Vinod Kotwal, director, National Codex Contact Point, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), MoHFW, said.
Khalakdina also highlighted the role of FSSAI in regulatory mechanism, risk assessment and risk management.

The experts underscored the importance of ensuring food safety globally as well. “Food supply chain now crosses countries and multiple national borders. There are a wide range of issues which vary from country to country like microbiological contamination, drug residues and genetically modified foods. Since there has been globalisation of food trade, it directly links to outbreak of foodborne illnesses, trade disputes and food recall,” Khalakdina said.

Experts pointed out that new threats are constantly emerging due to changes in food production, distribution and consumption, thanks to intensive agriculture, globalisation of food trade, mass catering and street food. Even new and emerging bacteria and toxins, antimicrobial resistance, climate change, food allergies and diets increasingly rich in salt, sugar and fats are the problem areas.

“There is a challenge to ensure microbiological safety of food. Since infected animals show no illness, so public health initiatives must include apparently healthy animals and safety of their food. Secondly, contaminated food usually looks, smells and tastes normal, therefore, visual inspection of food is not sufficient to guarantee it is safe. Lastly, new control techniques are required because pathogens survive traditional food techniques,” said Khalakdina.

Interestingly, these issues are important to India due to its nationwide food supplementation programmess like midday meal, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS), public distribution system and in light of the rising incidence of ailmets like diabetes, obesity, heart diseases and hypertension.

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