WHO shares 'bite-sized' truths on food safety

Each day, 1.6 million people fall sick with one of 200 illnesses that can be avoided through better food handling practices.


NH Digital

Each year, June 7 is recognised as World Food Safety Day to raise awareness about food-borne risks, prevent, detect, and manage diseases as well as ensure food security.

Following on from World Food Safety day this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) shared some nuggets on what makes food safe for consumption. These were illustrated in a simple, animated video, in which these points were detailed.

One of the common myths this year's campaign addresses is that in largely healthy people, food-borne illness is usually no more than a few days' inconvenience. Indeed, not all food-related illnesses are caused by microorganisms (bacteria, viruses) or parasites; some are chemically induced, and can cause acute poisoning or cancer too. In addition, some food-borne illnesses can result in long-term disability too, apart from causing death in children and other vulnerable people.

1. Wash your hands with soap before and during food preparation when you switch from touching raw food to cooked; and also before handling fruits and vegetables to be eaten raw. (And yes, organic produce also needs washing.)

2. Thaw food in the refrigerator or in cold water — not outside on the countertop at room temperature, as microbes can quickly multiply at these temperatures.

3. Don't wash raw poultry in particular, as the splashes can spread dangerous Salmonella bacteria to hands, utensils and neighbouring surfaces. (It is safer to simply cook meats, fish and egg well, especially poultry.)

4. Don't eat food that dropped on the floor as the slightest contact with microbes can transfer them to the food. (The 5-second 'rule' is a myth; science says otherwise.)

5. Leftover foods must be refrigerated within 2 hours of preparation to prevent them becoming unsafe. (The common Indian practice of cooking in the morning or afternoon and leaving food covered on the countertop for lunch/dinner is a source of potential illness.)

6. Some of the worst sources of disease-causing microbes in your kitchen are your cleaning cloths and sponges! They need to be disinfected or boiled in hot water to stop spreading germs around each time you 'clean' your countertop, or 'dry' your dishes.

7. You cannot tell from sight or smell whether food is safe to consume — the 'sniff test' does not hold up to the science.

8. Finally, you can fall sick as much as three days after eating contaminated food! Food-borne illnesses do not always show up within a few hours.

Further, a live Q&A on food safety was conducted with food safety expert Dr Simone Moraes Raszl, which was hosted by Nyka Alexander.

Dr Raszl spoke at length about the importance of food safety, the data pertaining to food safety and the lack of accuracy in said data due to lack of surveillance.

She also explained that vulnerable groups like children under five and the elderly are especially at risk due to food contamination. As it is preventable, it is therefore all the more essential to pay attention to food safety.

Dr Raszl also spoke about how this year is the sixth anniversary of Codex. The Codex Alimentarius, or “Food Code”, is a collection of international standards, guidelines and codes of practice to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade. Codex standards are used worldwide to harmonize national food safety regulations and are recognized in the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS).

She also stressed how having the same standards in developed and developing countries is important for food safety as well as to facilitate the trade of food. "In order to ensure that food security is ensured internationally is by trading food, because some countries cannot produce the food that they need," she said.

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