This is part of the findings of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Estimates of the Global Burden of Food-borne Diseases – the most comprehensive report to date on the impact of contaminated food on health and well being.
The report indicates that the burden of food-borne diseases caused by 31 agents—bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals—states that each year as many as 600 million, or almost one in 10 people in the world, fall ill after consuming contaminated food.
The report, which was made available to the Ghana News Agency in Accra on Wednesday, indicated that of these, 420 000 people die, including 125 000 children under the age of five.
“Until now, estimates of food-borne diseases were vague and imprecise. This concealed the true human costs of contaminated food.
This report sets the records straight,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO.
“Knowing which food-borne pathogens are causing the biggest problems in which parts of the world can generate targeted action by the public, governments, and the food industry,” she stated.
The report observed that while the burden of food-borne diseases was a public health concern globally, the WHO African and South-East Asia Regions had the highest incidence and highest death rates, including children under the age of five years.
“These estimates are the result of a decade of work, including input from more than 100 experts from around the world.
“They are conservative, and more needs to be done to improve the availability of data on the burden of food-borne diseases.
“But based on what we know now, it is apparent that the global burden of foodborne diseases is considerable, affecting people all over the world—particularly children under five years of age and people in low-income areas,” said Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of WHO’s Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses.
The report indicated that diarrhoeal diseases were responsible for more than half of the global burden of food-borne diseases, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year.
It said children were at particular risk of food-borne diarrhoeal diseases, with 220 million falling ill and 96 000 dying every year.
It noted that diarrhoea was often caused by eating raw or uncooked meat, eggs, fresh produce and dairy products contaminated by norovirus, Campylobacter, non-typhoidal Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli.
It said other major contributors to the global burden of food-borne diseases were typhoid fever, hepatitis A, Taenia solium (a tapeworm), and aflatoxin (produced by mould on grain that is stored inappropriately).
According to the report, certain diseases, such as those caused by non-typhoidal Salmonella, are a public health concern across all regions of the world, in high- and low-income countries alike.
It said other diseases, such as typhoid fever, food-borne cholera, and those caused by pathogenic E. coli, were much more common to low-income countries, while Campylobacter was an important pathogen in high-income countries.
It said the risk of food-borne diseases was most severe in low- and middle-income countries, linked to preparing food with unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage; lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation.
The report pointed out that foodborne diseases could cause short-term symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea (commonly referred to as food poisoning), but can also cause longer-term illnesses, such as cancer, kidney or liver failure, brain and neural disorders.
It said these diseases might be more serious in children, pregnant women, and those who are older or have a weakened immune system.
Children who survived some of the more serious food-borne diseases may suffer from delayed physical and mental development, impacting on their quality of life permanently.
Food safety is a shared responsibility, said WHO.
The report’s findings underscored the global threat posed by food-borne diseases and reinforced the need for governments, the food industry and individuals to do more to make food safe, and prevent food-borne diseases.
There remain a significant need for education and training on the prevention of foodborne diseases among food producers, suppliers, handlers and the general public.
WHO is working closely with national governments to help set and implement food safety strategies and policies that will in turn have positive impact on the safety of food in the global market place.
The WHO Region of the Americas is estimated to have the second lowest burden of foodborne diseases globally.
Nevertheless, 77 million people still fall ill every year from contaminated food, with an estimated 9000 deaths annually in the Region. Of those who fall ill, 31 million are under the age of five years, resulting in more than 2000 of these children dying a year.
While the overall burden of diarrhoeal diseases is lower than in other Regions, it is still the most common foodborne disease in the Region of the Americas with Norovirus, Campylobacter, E. coli and non-typhoidal Salmonella causing 95 per cent of cases.
Toxoplasmosis and the pork tapeworm (Taenia solium) are very important food safety concerns in the Central and South America.
Toxoplasmosis is spread through undercooked or raw meat and fresh produce, and can result in impaired vision and neurological conditions.