Focus on Food Safety on World Health Day
The World Health Organization (WHO) is devoting World Health Day, April 7, 2015, to the critical importance of food safety, with the theme “From Farm to Plate, Make Food Safe.” WHO estimates that unsafe food is linked to the deaths of 2 million people annually – including many children. Food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances can cause more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers, a major health concern for all people on the planet.
Even though our food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world, the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. annually, sickening 1 in 6 Americans. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. The people most likely to become ill from unsafe food, and to be hospitalized or die as a result, are people with weakened or undeveloped immune systems: older adults, very young children, pregnant women, and people with diseases or medical treatments that affect their immune systems, such as diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and organ transplants.
Foodborne illnesses occur because of environmental pollution or mishandling somewhere along the food chain from farm to table. Food may become unsafe because of contaminants in soil or water or inadequate safety measures in processing, transportation, or storage. It can also occur because of unsafe handling by workers in the food industry, or by consumers preparing food at home. Ensuring the safety of our food supply requires a farm-to-table approach. This means we are all a part of the food chain—including farmers, processors, transporters, retailers and food service workers, and consumers—and have responsibility for minimizing the risk of food contamination and helping to lower the danger of foodborne illness.
In the U.S., two federal agencies are responsible for regulation and safety standards for both domestic and imported foods:
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture – for meat, poultry and processed egg products , and
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration – for all other foods.
They work with state and local government, as well as the governments of countries that export food to the U.S., to help ensure that the food Americans buy is safe. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has provided new tools to help build modern concepts and techniques into our food safety standards and compliance programs to help prevent the contamination that can make people sick. The work that government does at every level to make sure that food in commerce is safe is indispensable, but it’s just as essential that consumers do their part to make sure that food in the home is safe as well. It isn’t very hard or complicated to do. WHO and U.S. health authorities advocate these keys to safe food handling:
- Clean Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, and cutting boards. Unless you wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces properly, you could spread bacteria to your food, and your family.
- Separate Even after you’ve cleaned your hands, utensils, and surfaces thoroughly, raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can still spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods—unless you keep them separate.
- Cook The bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “Danger Zone,” between 40˚ and 140˚F. While many people think they can tell when food is “done” simply by checking its color and texture, there’s no way to be sure it’s safe without using a food thermometer
- Chill Illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them. Putting foods promptly into a refrigerator with a temperature between 32˚F and 40˚F will help keep them safe. An appliance thermometer is the only way to be sure the refrigerator is cold enough.
Click on the links above for more information about food safety at home. All of us need to practice these four simple steps to keep food as safe as possible in our homes.