Page tools
codexalimentarius > News and Events > News details

Food Safety in the COVID-19 Era and Beyond


Food safety touches every aspect of our food system and defines how secure, sustainable, resilient, and nourishing a food supply can be when stressed. To mark the second annual World Food Safety Day, FAO North America convened a webinar exploring how to maintain safe supply chains during a pandemic and minimize future disruptions to build more resilient food systems and ensure food security on 12 June. Hank Cardello, Senior Fellow & Director, Food Policy Center, Hudson Institute moderated the expert discussion, which attracted over 300 viewers.

“Unsafe food kills nearly 420,000 people every year- these deaths are entirely preventable,” said Vimlendra Shared, Director of FAO North America in his opening remarks. “We must remember that food safety is everybody’s business.  Whether you are a farmer, farm supplier, food processor, transporter, marketer or consumer.”

Steven Jaffee, Lecturer at the University of Maryland Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, set the context for the discussion. Countries need to flatten the curve on COVID-19 and foodborne illnesses, he underlined. This is especially important for developing countries where the health and economic burden of unsafe food is high. According to a World Bank study, unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies USD $110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year.

“Foodborne illnesses have a significant impact on public health,” reiterated Naoko Yamamoto, Assistant Director-General, Universal Health Coverage / Healthier Populations, World Health Organization (WHO). The Organization is currently working to develop a new global food safety strategy in coordination with FAO to help countries implement policies at the national level and to update the global burden of foodborne illnesses report by 2025.  Currently WHO is providing nutrition and food safety guidance to governments, businesses and the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We cannot underestimate the significant food security and food safety challenges brought by COVID-19,” stressed Dave Crean, Vice-President of Corporate R&D and Chief Science Officer, Mars, Incorporated. The virus is converging and potentially accelerating global food supply issues, challenging the effectiveness and stability of food supply chains. “Timely and transparent collaboration is essential,” he added emphasizing the need to work across sectors. The Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC), a research and training facility to address food safety in Beijing, is one example of what a global collaboration can look like.

Vincent Doumeizel, Director of Food Challenge at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, highlighted the need to enable solutions to improve transparency, traceability, and safety of the food supply chain by adopting new technologies and digitalizing food safety controls. He noted the potential role that sustainable fish farming can provide to build resilient food systems. Towards this goal, the Foundation launched the Seaweed Manifesto, which defines a vision for the seaweed industry.

There is no current evidence of animals playing a role in the spread of COVID-19, clarified Jeffrey Lejeune, Food Safety and Quality Officer at FAO. However, it is still critical that we maintain personal hygiene and environmental sanitation throughout the food chain to keep our food supply safe. “During this current outbreak, we are learning about the vulnerabilities and weaknesses in our food system,” said Lejeune. Thus, flagging areas we need to intervene in order to strengthen our food supply chain for the future.

Bringing together resources, data, technology, public-private sector cooperation, and the ability to respond quickly, will be crucial to building a resilient food system, concluded Barbara Stinson, President of World Food Prize Foundation. The session, which included a robust Q & A session with participants, highlighted the complexity of addressing food safety issues and the challenges and opportunities the COVID-19 pandemic has posed to transform our food system.

Watch the webinar.

Read the twitter thread