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Food Safety: It’s Everyone’s Business

Food Safety – everyone’s business” that was the theme of the first-ever World Food Safety Day that was facilitated by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations in June 2019. Food safety is key to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the foodservice industry is one of the major role players in sharing this responsibility and supporting governments, producers and consumers in making the world a safer place by ensuring the food produced, served and sold is safe for all. Food safety also contributes to food security, prevents food from being wasted and facilitates sustainable development.

Globally 1 in 10 people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food. An estimated 600 million cases annually.   This situation causes strain on health care systems, harms economies and impedes trade and tourism. We all have a role to play from production to consumption to ensure that the food we consume is safe and will not cause damage to our health. Unsafe food also contributes to the loss in productivity of workers that is associated with illness, disability and premature death suffered by the employees.

There are various agencies and initiatives available to assist role players in the foodservice industry to prevent, manage and respond to risks along the food supply chain. Co-operation with food producers and vendors, government authorities and industry stakeholders, globally and locally, will lead to the successful implementation of such initiatives, where food safety will also provide improved food security.

Two of the primary aims of the Sustainable Development Goals is the importance of everyone’s access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, and that safe food is crucial to promoting health and ending hunger, thereby facilitating food security.

Food safety education and training is one of the initiatives that can be employed by the foodservice industry to not only train their employees but also provide relevant information to the customers they serve. Such initiatives have the potential to reduce foodborne diseases and provide a return on savings, Rand for Rand that is spent. The foodservice industry therefore needs to become involved in activities that aim to inspire action to prevent, detect and manage foodborne health risks.

The FAO and the WHO have created a new guide to show how all can get involved to improve food safety and help in creating improved food security. The guide includes five steps that assist in achieving improved food safety:

  • Ensure it’s safe. Governments must ensure safe and nutritious food for all.
  • Grow it safe. Agriculture and food producers need to adopt good practices.
  • Keep it safe. Business operators must make sure food is safely transported, stored and prepared.
  • Check it’s safe. Consumers need access to timely, clear and reliable information about the nutritional and disease risks associated with their food choices.
  • Team up for safety. Governments, regional economic bodies, UN organisations, development agencies, trade organisations, consumer and producer groups, academic and research institutions and private sector entities must work together on food safety issues.

Each and every one of us can contribute to making food safe. Food can become contaminated at any point of production and distribution, yet the primary responsibility lies with the food producers. Foodborne disease incidents are also caused by food improperly prepared or mishandled in foodservice establishments or markets and in homes of consumers. The reason for this is that food handlers and consumers do not always understand the rules they need to apply such as adopting basic hygienic practices when buying, selling and preparing food to protect the health of their consumers and customers.

Keeping food safe is the prime responsibility of food producers and food handlers and consumers place the risk of safe food on the shoulders of the food producers. Considering this we ask the question:  What are the critical elements food producers and handlers must pay attention to, to reduce or prevent contamination?

As poor handling and preparation of food including improper cooking and storage are of the main causes of food spoilage a concerned food handler would focus on the following food safety essentials:

  • Personal hygiene of all foodservice workers – hair, nails and attire
  • Proper handwashing – washing with soap and water
  • Proper food handling – during all four processes of receiving, storage, production and service
  • Awareness of potential hazards – people; packaging; chemical and physical environment.

The burden of unsafe food safety practices resulting in foodborne diseases to public health and welfare and to the economy is often underestimated as a result of underreporting and the difficulty to establish relationships between food contamination and illness or death.

Food safety is everyone’s business and the onus is on all of us from the top down to be knowledgeable regarding what we need to do to ensure improved food safety in our institutions and for all.

References: Various WHO reports ps://  WHO Report 4June 2019.