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Food Safety

Consumers around the world have a right to expect that the foods they purchase and consume are safe and of high quality. Good, safe food is the foundation of a nutritious diet. In addition to safeguarding the well-being of consumers, food safety is also crucial to enable agricultural producers to gain access to markets. This in turn contributes to economic development and poverty alleviation.

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.

Each year, the impact of unsafe food causes production losses of around US$ 95 billion in low- and middle-income economies.
Food safety is a critical enabler for market access and productivity, which drives economic development and poverty alleviation, especially in rural areas.
More than 600 million people fall ill and 420 000 die every year as a result of eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals.
Foodborne diseases can affect individuals of all ages, but those most vulnerable are children under 5 years of age and persons living in low-income subregions of the world.
Food safety education for consumers has the potential to reduce foodborne disease; for each dollar invested, the return savings is up to ten-fold.
Climate change can affect the geographic occurrence and prevalence of food safety hazards, leading to changed patterns of pathogens and mycotoxins, marine biotoxins and heavy metals (e.g. cadmium, mercury) contaminating food.
Improving hygiene practices in the food and agricultural sectors helps to reduce the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance along the food chain and in the environment.
A Zero Hunger world can only be achieved if the food consumed is safe.
Food safety is a shared responsibility among governments, industries and consumers.

FAO’s role

Keeping food safe is a complex process that starts on the farm and ends with the consumer. FAO is the only international organization overseeing all aspects of the food chain, thereby providing a unique, 360° vision on food safety. A longstanding partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) enhances this perspective. Through complementary mandates, FAO and WHO cover a range of issues to support global food safety and protect consumers’ health. WHO typically oversees and maintains strong relationships with the public health sector, and FAO generally addresses food safety issues along the food production chain.

FAO assists Member Countries in food safety considerations by:

  • Strengthening national food regulatory control systems through:

    assisting national authorities to formulate evidence-based, enabling and coherent policies.

    helping governments review and update food legislation.

    developing institutional and individual capacities to perform risk-based food inspections, sampling and analysis, risk-communication and food safety management.
  • Working with local food producers to develop measures to prevent or minimize food and feed safety risks
  • Hosting the joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, the global food safety and quality standard-setting body
  • Providing independent, broad-based scientific advice to Member Countries and to Codex through expert bodies on Food Additives (JECFA), Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA), and Pesticide Residues (JMPR) 
  • Contributing to food chain intelligence and foresight on food regulatory issues
  • Providing guidance to countries on emerging issues such as antimicrobial resistance, whole genome sequencing and nanotechnology
  • Facilitating access to information through relevant platforms, databases and tools to support food safety assessment and management
  • Promoting food safety emergency preparedness through the FAO Emergency Prevention System for Food Safety (EMPRES Food Safety) and rapidly sharing information during food safety emergencies through the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN).

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