Unsafe food and water contaminated with faecal matter and chemicals kills more than 2 million people annually, mostly children. The most common sources of contamination are uncooked foods of animal origin, and fruits and vegetables.
Foodborne illnesses – and there are 200 of them, says WHO -- cause infections or toxicity. Foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, or Campylobacter can cause severe illnesses and death. Chemical contamination can lead to acute poisoning or long-term diseases such as cancer.
On World Health Day, we tell you how to keep food safe and avoid infection
1. Clean -- Wash hands and surfaces often. Scrub hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and rinse.
Don’t handle food if you have symptoms of diarrhoea or vomiting, or have infected cuts or sores.
2. Separate —Don't cross-contaminate
Use separate cutting boards, plates, utensils and knives for raw meat and other foods.
Damp dishcloths are breeding grounds for bacteria, so wash and dry before use.
3. Cook—Cook thoroughly
Harmful bacteria grow rapidly between 4°C and 60°C.
Meats, poultry, fish and eggs get contaminated faster than grains and vegetables/ Cook thoroughly to over 75°C.
Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly when the food is cooled and then re-heated. Reheat to 75°C before eating.
Do not leave food out to cool, refrigerate within two hours.
Thaw food only in the refrigerator, under running water, or in the microwave.
5. If in Doubt, Throw it Out
Contaminated foods don’t always look or smell bad, so if in doubt, throw it out.
(Source: World Health Organization)
“Contamination is a serious issue in India as unchecked microbial activity, and the use of pesticides and antibiotics seriously compromise food safety while consumption of junk food and other chemically-laced foods adds to the problem,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Pesticide use and management in India is largely unregulated and food contaminated with pesticide residues is freely used by unsuspecting consumers, show CSE findings. Pesticides are linked to long-term health effects such as endocrine disruption, birth defects and cancer.
Indiscriminate use of antibiotics for growth promotion and mass disease prevention among animals also lead to residues of antibiotics and resistant-bacteria getting transferred to food. “Most bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses such -- as E coli, salmonella and campylobacter are already found to be multi-drug resistant in India,” says Bhushan.
What India needs to do
Implement and enforce the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSS)
Strengthen food testing laboratory
Set maximum residual limits on chemicals and other determinants of unsafe food
Set up a national-level disease surveillance and public alert system
Promote domestic food and international trade policies to make fresh food cheap and easily available