UN: Contaminated Food Sickens 600 Million, Kills 420,000 Every Year

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GENEVA - In advance of World Food Safety Day, U.N. agencies are calling for concerted action to ensure food is free of the toxins that every year cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

A U.N. report on global food security finds nearly 690 million people suffered from chronic hunger in 2019, before COVID-19. The full impact of the pandemic on food insecurity is not yet known. However, the report estimates as many as 132 million more people will have been short of food in 2020 because of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Dominique Burgeon is director of the Food and Agriculture Organization Office in Geneva. He said food safety is key to food security.

“Every year, 600 million people fall ill and one in 10, about 420,000 die from eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, or chemicals. Yet, this is the tip of the iceberg as comprehensive surveillance data for foodborne illnesses is not available everywhere,” said Burgeon.

Moreover, he said unsafe food causes significant financial burdens in low-and-middle income countries, amounting to productivity losses of some $90 billion a year.

U.N. agencies say food safety is a shared responsibility and everyone has a role to play in keeping food safe and keeping people healthy. Burgeon said this includes those who produce the food, industry, governments, and consumers.

“The way you store your food, the way you cook it. But, of course, I would say it goes from farm to fork. So, really at the beginning of the process. The way food is being produced…the way the food is stored, and then the way it is transported, processed, etc.,” he said.

U.N. agencies say food safety involves a holistic approach that considers human, animal, plant and environmental health. Understanding and keeping all aspects of the food chain safe they say will contribute to a healthy life and a healthy planet.

Source: Voice of America