What is food safety?
Food safety is the absence -- or safe, acceptable levels -- of hazards in food that may harm the health of consumers. Food-borne hazards can be microbiological, chemical or physical in nature and are often invisible to the plain eye: bacteria, viruses or pesticide residues are some examples.
Food safety has a critical role in assuring that food stays safe at every stage of the food chain - from production to harvest, processing, storage, distribution, all the way to preparation and consumption.
With an estimated 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses annually, unsafe food is a threat to human health and economies, disproportionally affecting vulnerable and marginalized people, especially women and children, populations affected by conflict, and migrants. An estimated three million people around the world -- in developed and developing countries -- die every year from food and waterborne disease. Food is the starting point for our energy, our health and our well-being. We often take for granted that it is safe, but in an increasingly complex and interconnected world where food value chains are growing longer, standards and regulations are that much more important in keeping us safe.
Food safety and Sustainable Development Goals
Food safety is key to achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals and World Food Safety Day brings it into the spotlight, to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks. Safe food contributes to economic prosperity, boosting agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.
- Goal 2 — There is no food security without food safety. Ending hunger is about all people having access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.
- Goal 3 — Food safety has a direct impact on people’s health and nutritional intake. Foodborne diseases are preventable.
- Goal 12 — When countries strengthen their regulatory, scientific and technological capacities to ensure that food is safe and of the expected quality throughout the food chain, they move towards more sustainable patterns of food production and consumption.
- Goal 17 — A globalized world with annual food exports currently in excess of USD 1.6 trillion and complex food systems demands international cooperation across sectors to ensure food is safe. Food safety is a shared responsibility among governments, food industries, producers and consumers.
Food safety and the United Nations
Keeping food safe is a complex process that starts on the farm and ends with the consumer. All stages of the food chain, from production, harvest and storage to preparation and consumption, must be considered. The Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO) is the only international organization overseeing food safety along all aspects of the food chain.
Through a longstanding partnership, FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) support global food safety and protect consumers’ health. FAO generally addresses food safety issues along the food chain during production and processing, while WHO typically oversees relationships with the public health sector. Safeguarding food so that it is safe to eat doesn’t stop with its purchase though. At home, consumers have a part to play in making sure that what they eat remains safe.
Cognizant of the urgent need to raise awareness at all levels and to promote and facilitate actions for global food safety, the General Assembly decided to designate 7 June as World Food Safety Day.