Adherence to appropriate food temperatures, hand-washing regimes, surface cleanliness, and food storage all come to mind when I think back to applying for my food handlers card when I was 15 years old. Food safety isn't limited to restaurants or the farm. From a food processing plant to the refrigerator at the workplace, understanding the role of food safety in life is why we are recognizing National Food Safety Month.
Chew on these nine facts — many discussed by the World Health Organization — before you take your next bite.
Food poisioning is all too common
More than 200 diseases are spread through food. Diarrheal diseases alone kill an estimated 1.5 million children annually, and most of these illnesses are attributed to contaminated food or water. Proper food preparation can prevent most foodborne diseases (World Health Organization, 2014).
With modernization comes great responsiblity
Our interconnected global food chains spread disease-causing organisms in food far and wide. Emerging markets are especially at risk, as people eat more food outside the home that may not be handled or prepared safely—including both fresh and packaged foods.
Chemical hazards can contaminate food
Not only does burnt or overcooked food taste bad, it can actually hurt you. The USDA and FDA determine what chemicals are acceptable in foods in the United States. A potentially cancer-causing chemical, Acrylamide, is formed from natural ingredients during the cooking of some foods at high temperatures (generally above 120°C), including fried potato products, baked cereal products and coffee. The food industry is working to find methods to lower exposure to such chemicals. Avoid eating or serving overcooked fried, grilled, or baked food.
Everyone plays a role in food safety
Food contamination can occur at any stage from farm to table. Everyone on the food delivery chain must employ measures to keep food safe: farmer, processor, vendor and consumer. Safety at home and at work is just as vital to prevent disease outbreaks.
Food safety is a global concern
Globalization of food production and trade increases the likelihood of international incidents involving contaminated food. Imported food products and ingredients are common in most countries. Stronger food safety systems in export countries can reinforce both local and cross-border health security.
Most emerging diseases are directly linked to food
Over the past decade about 75% of the new infectious diseases affecting humans were caused by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that started in animals and animal products. Many of these diseases in people are related to the handling of infected domestic or wild animals during food production — in food markets and at slaughter houses.
The bird flu is easily remedied
There is no evidence that H5N1 disease is spread to people by eating properly cooked poultry. To avoid risk of foodborne illnesses in poultry:
- separate raw meat from other foods
- keep clean and wash your hands
- cook thoroughly (until meat is 70 °C in all parts, with no pink areas).
The vast majority of H5N1 avian influenza cases in people follow direct contact with infected live or dead birds.
Start by taking care of the animals
Proper care for animals on the farm will lower infection among them and can reduce foodborne illnesses. For example, reducing the incidence of salmonella in farm chickens by 50% (through better farm management) results in 50% fewer people getting sick from the bacteria. Awareness and changes in practice have caused salmonella-free chicken flocks to become commonplace in some countries.
Does anyone clean out the fridge at your workplace? Is there a schedule of notices, or any other form of communication, advising you of fridge clean-outs or the status of shared food? Is vending machine food within its expiration timeframe, and are there labels communicating when food has been changed out? Does your workplace have a kitchen or restaurant? Who is responsible for cleaning it? People generally spend about one-third of their waking hours at work. Prioritizing food safety communication through best practice labels and signs that everyone recognizes can prevent the spread of food diseases.
World Health Organization. (2014, August 11). Facts on Food Safety. Retrieved from WHO: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/food_safety/facts/en/