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Commentary

Food safety is everybody’s responsibility

05:04 AM June 05, 2019

Everyone has the right to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. Still today, almost one in 10 people in the world fall ill, and 420,000 die after eating contaminated food. When food is not safe, children cannot learn, adults cannot work. Human development cannot take place.

The first ever World Food Safety Day is being celebrated on June 7 to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage food-borne risks, and improve food security, human health and sustainable development. This day calls for stronger and more concerted efforts to reduce food safety risks. Whether you produce, process, sell or prepare food, you have a role in keeping it safe. Everybody along the food chain is responsible for food safety.

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Food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. Food-borne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems, impairing productivity and harming national economies, tourism and trade. Recent estimates indicate that the impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies around $95 billion in lost productivity each year.

Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances causes more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers. Food-borne diseases may lead to long-lasting disability and death. In the Philippines, over 17,000 people had acute bloody diarrhea in 2018.

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Food can become contaminated at any point from production to consumption. While the primary food safety responsibility lies with food producers, many food-borne diseases are caused by improperly prepared or mishandled food at home, in food service establishments, markets or even in the farms.

Effective food safety systems are key not only to safeguarding the health and well-being of people, but also to fostering economic development and improving livelihoods by promoting access to markets.

Through a long-standing partnership, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) support global food safety along the food supply chain and protect consumers’ health. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, managed by FAO and WHO, establishes science-based food standards, guidelines and codes of practice that improve food safety and quality by establishing limits for contaminants in food, guidelines for good hygienic practices, labeling, food additives, inspection and certification, and nutrition.

When governments adopt international standards, farmers and producers are able to meet consumer demands for safe food, while at the same time gaining access to the global food market.

The Philippines has a good policy foundation on food safety with the Food Safety Act of 2013 and the Code on Sanitation of the Philippines (Chapter 3). The country also has the National Codex Technical Committee to develop, adopt or localize food safety standards in the country.

FAO has been working with the Philippine government, particularly the Department of Agriculture, to improve the policy environment for food and nutrition security through enforcement of rational food policies, including for food safety and early detection of threats to food and agriculture. FAO is helping strengthen the Philippines’ risk-based imported food control system and develop its national food safety indicators with reference to the Codex.

WHO has also been working with the Department of Health on developing a food safety action plan, strengthening risk-based inspection of food establishments, updating the implementing rules and regulations of the Food Safety Act and Chapter 3–Food Establishments of the Code on Sanitation, and promoting the use of five keys to safer food messages for keeping food safe at the household level.

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However, more work needs to be done for food safety, including on enforcement and implementation of food safety regulations, capacity-building of food safety inspectors, provision of adequate funding and human resources and improved communication. Leaders and policymakers at the national and local level must have stronger political will to prioritize food safety and go beyond the “business as usual” and “traditional” approaches.

Currently, there remain overlaps and gaps on food safety regulations and practices of different government agencies that have food safety mandates. The adoption of a risk-based approach, as mandated by the Food Safety Act of 2013, can be further strengthened and standardized as part of the regulatory system and food industry practice to make a difference. This approach involves analyzing the probability and severity of negative impacts to health of different hazards that can render food unsafe.

Moreover, the Philippines can further enhance multisectoral collaboration among public health, animal health, agriculture and other sectors for better communication and joint action. At the household level, risk communications and advocacy should be strengthened for consumers to be critical and adopt good hygiene practices to reduce food safety risks.

Food safety is everyone’s business and responsibility. Food safety is not just up to the government or food producers. Let us all work together to make sure that our food is, and remains, safe.

José Luis Fernandez is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations representative to the Philippines. Dr. Gundo Weiler is the World Health Organization representative to the Philippines.

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TAGS: contaminated food, food safety, Inquirer Commentary, World Food Safety Day
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