World Health Day 2015: from farm to plate, make food safe
Unsafe food and water is linked to 700 000 diarrhoeal deaths in children in WHO's South-East Asia Region annually. WHO is spotlighting food safety on World Health Day 2015 to mobilize policy makers and the public to make food safe, from farm to plate.
Globally, 2.2 million people die every year from diarrhoea caused by contaminated food and water while unsafe food often begins a pattern of disease that can impact generations. Keeping the food on our plate safe requires that everyone from the farmer, the policy maker, the cook and the consumer are better informed to make safer choices.
Food safety starts From the Farm
Safe food production practices at the farm can ensure that the fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and poultry products are well-tended from the source. Vivek Kushwaha is an organic farmer and self-described “foodie” from New Delhi. His lifelong desire for healthy food ignited a passion to develop a successful organic poultry farm and bring local farmers together to form a network of producers of safe food. His “cycle of happiness” philosophy has drastically improved the lives of the farmers Vivek works with. “They had almost quit farming. All these farmers who thought farming was not profitable are once again enthused as we make sure they produce the best quality products for the consumers. Now, the farmer who had a loan has paid it back and can provide for his family. They also understand that providing healthy food for consumers isn’t just sustainable, it’s the right thing to do. They’re happy, we are happy and our consumers are happy.”
Pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals, when used without prescription get into the food chain early and end up on our plates. Similarly, veterinary drugs and antibiotics, when used without proper prescription also get into the food we eat.
“Farmers who thought farming was not profitable are once again enthused as we make sure they produce the best quality products for the consumers”
- Vivek Kushwaha, Organic poultry farmer
WHO’s Antimicrobial Resistance Global Report on Surveillance has defined this clearly - resistance to antibacterial drugs has become a worldwide problem for both human and animal health. Irrational use of antibiotics causes antimicrobial resistance in both animals and humans. Antibiotics are used in animal production for disease prevention, treatment and better growth. However, when used without a prescription and without following guidelines, these antibiotics make their way into the human body when consuming meat, milk, eggs, honey and fish. As food products, the spread of resistant genes from animals to humans is a growing potential danger.
WHO Regional Food Safety Strategy
The South-East Asia Regional Food Safety Strategy among others objectives, is building links across the Region. From the Food Standard and Safety Authority of India’s mechanisms to certify safe food across all sectors to the ‘Clean food, good taste’ certification for street food vendors in Thailand, WHO is working with governments, policy makers, public health professionals, and individuals to build a synergy of safe food. This includes promoting and supporting implementation of laws and standards, working with governments to improve public awareness and spurring action across various sectors.
Despite several international recommendations made in the last 10 years, harmonized integrated surveillance of antimicrobial resistance in food-producing animals and food is implemented in only a few countries. While national programmes are working to create more reactive programmes, a holistic solution must also come from each segment of the food chain, starting with the farmers.
Vivek and his network of farmers use minimal chemicals and use veterinary drugs strictly as prescribed. His mantra for safe food is “If I can't eat it, I won’t sell it”.
How safe is the food on your plate?
Producing safe food at the farms is a welcome beginning. An educated, thoughtful consumer is a vital link in the safe food chain. Consumers can ensure food safety by following consumer safety tips like purchasing quality food, ensuring that areas of food preparation are clean, storing food correctly, cooking food thoroughly and serving food hot.
After production and choosing safe food comes preparation. As Food Services Manager, Mr Ahluwalia’s food services staff provides over 1900 meals a day to the students and faculty of a school in New Delhi. Ensuring quality is critical to the daily operation. Mr Ahluwalia is proud to announce, “Right from the time we buy food to the time the kids have eaten and come back the next day, there is a certain regimented way to ensure the whole process is safe, hygienic and nutritious.“
“Right from the time we buy food to the time the kids have eaten and come back the next day, there is a certain regimented way to ensure the whole process is safe, hygienic and nutritious.“
- Mr Ahluwalia
A clean, well-organized system is deep-rooted in Mr Ahluwalia’s work practices that ensure good hygiene of all workers, surfaces and utensils. All meat, vegetables and bread are prepared at different times on separate, dedicated preparation areas. All meals are monitored to ensure the food has been cooked thoroughly and served hot. This diligence minimizes any gaps in the food service chain.
Food safety is everyone’s responsibility
WHO supports and strengthens the International Food Safety Authorities Network’s (INFOSAN) capacity to detect and respond to food safety incidents around the world while providing better communication between international food authorities.
While WHO continues to work with the policy makers, bringing various sectors together and advocating for food safety, everyone has a role to play in making food safe from farm to plate.