From farm to plate: make food safe

A safe and nutritious food supply is essential for good health. Unsafe food can lead to a range of health problems, with new threats to food safety constantly emerging. Food that contains harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances is responsible for more than 200 diseases, both acute and chronic, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.

In 2013, there were over 310 000 reported cases of bacterial foodborne disease in the European Union/European Economic Area alone, of which 322 people died. This represents only the tip of the iceberg regarding the real burden of foodborne disease due to limited surveillance and reporting systems. The burden of foodborne disease in the eastern part of the European Region is likely to be even greater, while, at the same time, there are more challenges with regard to surveillance and reporting.

New threats to food safety are constantly emerging. Changes in food production, processing, distribution and consumption, changes to the environment, new and emerging bacteria and contaminants and antimicrobial resistance all pose challenges to national food safety systems. Increased travel and trade heighten the likelihood that contamination will spread internationally.

Risks to food safety can arise throughout the food chain, which is why many different sectors – health, agriculture, transport, environment, food service and the food industry – must collaborate to ensure that the food supply is secure, and the food on our plates is safe. 

Consumers must also understand and follow basic hygiene advice, to ensure that they handle and prepare food safely.

World Health Day

World Health Day 2015 is an opportunity to recognize the important food safety role of all involved in food production, and to strengthen collaboration and coordination between these different areas, to prevent, detect and respond to foodborne diseases.  

WHO work on food safety

WHO helps countries on food safety in line with the Codex Alimentarius, a collection of international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice covering all the main foods and processes. Together with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), WHO alerts countries to food safety emergencies through an international information network. 

WHO/Europe gives priority to building national capacity to manage food safety challenges through targeted training courses and projects.