Food safety and quality
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Public education and communication

A customer browsing cheese in the dairy section at the Shoprite supermarket in Swaziland ┃ © FAO / Giulio Napolitano
Educating consumers for informed choices

The general public have a major role to play in the overall national food control system – they influence the policies that guide the system and, in a number of ways, the functioning of the system itself.

Consumers

Consumers directly affect the safety of foods through their food handling and preparation practices. Several national and international reports have noted that poor hygienic practices in the home are responsible for between 30-40% of food-borne illness.

Many countries invest in educating and informing the public about food safety as an important means of reducing food-borne illness.

FAO has worked with public health and food safety authorities and with consumer bodies to:

  • assist in the design of public information/education programmes/campaigns, including the monitoring of their effectiveness
  • assist in the development of appropriate messages for use in such programmes to facilitate behaviour change (hand-washing, use of safe raw products and water, temperature-time management during handling, proper storage practices, cross contamination issues, proper cooking temperatures, etc.)
  • improve food hygiene practices in food service sector (including street food)

Public involvement

The influence of an informed and educated public goes beyond his/her home: public concerns about food safety/ food quality have in many cases driven public policy and industry policy and behaviour.

Consumer groups and other civil society groups often play a big role in ensuring that the consumers have a voice.

Recognizing the importance of effective involvement of the general public, FAO:

  • provides guidance to governments on strengthening mechanisms for public input into food control decision-making
  • collaborates with international consumer and other civil society organizations on various food safety/ quality issues

Labelling

There is growing consumer and industry interest in food labelling: the industry is concerned about informing potential consumers of the “qualities” of their products and many consumers actively seek information to facilitate product choices that meet their health needs and are consistent with their values.

Government authorities seek to ensure that the information provided on food packages is useful, credible and presented clearly so that it does not mislead the consumer.

Mandatory labeling gives consumers warnings, instructions and other types of information which are deemed by regulatory authorities to be important for the consumer's welfare. Authorities also provide guidance on voluntary labelling. FAO:

  • provides guidance to authorities on the development of national labelling regulations that are consistent with Codex Guidelines and that meet national needs
  • support programmes to promote correct interpretation of labels information by consumers.