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Unsafe Food Kills Hundreds of Thousands

FILE - A girl, who fell sick after consuming contaminated meals given to children at a school on Tuesday, rests inside a hospital in the eastern Indian city of Patna, July 18, 2013.

In advance of World Health Day (April 7), the World Health Organization is urging governments to enact robust food safety systems to protect people from contaminated foods that can kill them.

People have to eat to live, but the World Health Organization warns what you eat can kill you. Thanks to globalization, a vast variety of foods in and out of season now are available to people around the world.

Unfortunately, the WHO says food can become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals anywhere along the complicated production and distribution food chain that has developed with globalization.

The U.N. agency says these contaminants cause more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers. For the first time, it is issuing estimates of the global burden of food borne diseases.

Department of Food Safety and Zooneses Director Kazuaki Miyagishima tells VOA there are so many food hazards, WHO experts had to limit their research to different enteric diseases.

“We picked up 22 bacteria, virus, and parasites and according to our estimates in 2010, the 22 different pathogens caused 582 million cases of food borne illnesses leading to 351,000 deaths all over the world,” said Miyagishima.

Dr. Miyagishima notes says the organization hopes to publish information later in the year regarding food contamination from chemicals.

Lack of food safety systems

He says Africa is the region with the highest burden for enteric food borne diseases, followed by Southeast Asia. He says the situation is particularly bad in Africa because the continent does not have well developed food safety and health systems. He says the production and preparation of foods tend to be below hygienic safety standards.

He says very young children globally are the major victims of unsafe food.

“Forty percent of illness and deaths happen in the children of five years or under and in the global population, this child population of five years and under accounts for nine percent. So, nine percent of the population account for 40 percent of food borne disease,” said Miyagishima.

The World Health Organization is urging governments to enact food safety laws and systems to protect their people. It also recommends they refer to international food standard guidelines set by the WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization.

It says there are several simple measures consumers can take to protect themselves. It advises them to read labels when buying food, to wash hands and wash foods, to not mix raw and cooked foods together, and to thoroughly cook food.

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