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On World Food Safety Day, WHO and its Member States in the South-East Asia Region join global calls to accelerate action to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks and improve human health. Every year, nearly 600 million people fall sick and an estimated 420 000 people die globally because they consume contaminated food. The Region accounts for a quarter of all foodborne illness, almost 42% of related mortality, and more than half of all people globally who are infected and die from typhoid and viral hepatitis A, both of which are vaccine preventable. Unsafe food not only affects people’s health and well-being, but has negative economic consequences, costing low- and middle-income countries USD 110 billion each year. The theme of this year’s celebration – “Safer food, better health” – highlights the essential role that safe and nutritional food plays in ensuring human health and well-being.
Amid the COVID-19 response, the Region has made targeted efforts to increase access to sufficient, safe and healthy food, in line with its Framework for Action on Food Safety, as well as its Flagship Priorities on preventing and controlling noncommunicable diseases, strengthening emergency risk management, and preventing and combatting antimicrobial resistance (AMR). In all countries of the Region, National Codex Committees continue to facilitate multisectoral action to strengthen food safety. Five of the Region’s 11 Member States have begun implementing group or individual Codex Trust Fund projects, with more set to follow. Six Member States – Bhutan, Indonesia, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste – have already developed national food safety plans that are aligned with the Regional Framework for Action and the Global Food Safety Strategy. In 2021, WHO conducted a series of food safety-focused workshops and meetings in the Region, including on risk mitigation in traditional food markets, advancing implementation of the Framework for Action, addressing AMR as a food safety issue, and mitigating the impacts of COVID-19.
All stakeholders must act. First, policy makers can initiate and/or support measures to strengthen national food safety systems, with a focus on enhancing legal frameworks and compliance. Increased multisectoral collaboration is especially needed at the local and national levels, but also regionally and globally. Second, food businesses can better engage employees, suppliers and other stakeholders to nurture and develop a culture of food safety. Specific focus should be put on achieving full compliance with international food standards. Third, educational institutions and workplaces can intensify efforts to promote safe food handling and engage with and involve families in food safety activities. Ongoing education is critical to mobilize whole-of-society action. Fourth, consumers should practice safe food handling at home, following WHO’s Five Keys to Safer Food: keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, and use safe and raw materials.
Our momentum is strong, but together we must push ever harder, faster. At last year’s UN Food Systems Summit, countries from the Region and across the world committed to transform food systems, ensuring such systems are not only resilient, inclusive and sustainable, but also healthy and safe. WHO is committed to achieving that outcome, which will in turn reduce the disproportionate impact of foodborne illness on infants and young children, the elderly and sick, and diminish wider socioeconomic effects. On World Food Safety Day, WHO reiterates its commitment to support Member States to ensure that every person can access sufficient, safe and healthy food, for a healthier, safer and more sustainable South-East Asia Region, and a healthier, safer and more sustainable world.
World Food Safety Day: “Safer food, better health” – World Health Organization