Sécurité sanitaire et qualité des aliments

Seeing World Food Safety Day 2020 through the eyes of Markus Lipp



FAO, WHO and the Codex Alimentarius Secretariat jointly facilitated the second observance of World Food Safety Day, which took place on 7 June 2020. To find out what that was like from an FAO perspective, we spoke with Markus Lipp (ML), Head of the FAO Food Safety and Quality Unit, who helped shape the campaign and took part in a number of events.

Q: What was this year’s World Food Safety Day like for you?

ML: World Food Safety Day 2020 was a wonderful experience. We learned from an amazingly large and varied group of activities from all stakeholders. Personally, I participated in many events including print and radio interviews, Twitter chats, webinars and more in Ghana, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, just to name a few. The saddest part was that my days were too short and I could not personally participate in all the wonderful events around the world. As for next year’s celebration, I, together with all my colleagues, are already looking forward to it and we will do our best to participate in as many events as we possibly can. It is inspiring and highly motivating to celebrate food safety with everyone around this world.

Q: Who were the target audiences?

ML: One of the most amazing experiences was to see the motto of the 2020 World Food Safety Day in action. Interacting with regulators, consumers, food manufacturers and food workers, the commitment to and interest in making and keeping our food safe for all was truly inspiring. Food safety is everyone’s business, so the target audiences were as varied as the people and it was a wonderful diversity. I am grateful that I had a chance to really experience the embodiment of our motto: “Food safety is everyone’s business”.  

Q: What were the events about – were there any common themes?

ML: Most events were highly interactive with a strong focus on the practical measures we can apply to keep our food safe. Obviously, COVID-19 was a topic of great interest, and the events celebrating World Food Safety Day provided an excellent platform to spread more facts and information, especially the message, that food is not known to transmit the disease. As of today, human-to-human transmission remains by far the most important route of transmission.

Q: What were the biggest warnings you heard during the WFSD events?

ML: The celebrations around World Food Safety Day provided for me and many of my colleagues at FAO and WHO a fantastic opportunity to hear and listen to concerns from all different stakeholders. One of the areas most mentioned was: where can we get credible and up-to-date information, and what can consumers do to ensure that they purchase safe food. Of course, FAO and WHO provide a large amount of information that is available to all, and WHO’s ‘5 keys to safer food’ provide a solid basis for understanding how to improve food safety at a local and household level. For regulators, many of the FAO (and WHO) policy papers will help in developing suitable regulatory measures. But we are not alone. Other agencies and most notably the private sector can be sources of excellent sector-specific information to guide consumers, manufacturers and regulators alike.

Q: You also spoke to the media – what topics did journalists want to hear about?

ML: Unsurprisingly the questions raised by journalists have been similar to those raised by all other stakeholders.  Food unites us all. To live and to flourish, every single one of us needs access to safe and nutritious foods. Therefore, among the most often relayed messages have been preventative hygiene measures such as hand washing, keeping all work surfaces clean and ensuring that people who are sick do not handle or serve food. Equally as often the topic whether a person can contract COVID-19 from food (no, they cannot) came up. And of course, what industry and regulators can do to help protect our food supply chains to ensure that all people continue to have access to food.

Q: Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened the focus on food safety?

ML: COVID-19 is having a huge impact on everyone across all countries. To-date no person has been infected with COVID-19 via food. However, at the same time there continue to be many foodborne illnesses that can threaten our health and wellbeing. These risks are why we are raising awareness of food safety through the World Food Safety Day. Many of the activities that keep us away from COVID-19 will also help prevent many of the foodborne illnesses – especially handwashing, one of the simplest yet among the most effective preventative measures. At the same time, the world has learned that the health and safety of our farmers and food workers is critical to ensure that all of us have access to safe and nutritious food.

Q: UN days are about raising awareness and inspiring action. Did WFSD do either or both of those – from what you saw?

ML: World Food Safety Day is a very young day – 2020 was only the second opportunity to celebrate food safety all over the world on the same day. We have been impressed and amazed by the enthusiasm that people all over the world have brought forward to help us celebrate this event. We noticed a very large number of events, in small and large groups, from regulators, industry, consumers and other stakeholders, and we know that there had been even more events. Yes, for a 2-year old UN day, I believe we all have been very successful in raising awareness of the importance of food safety and I am already excited to start the planning process for 2021. We truly believe we can make World Food Safety Day on 7 June 2021 even bigger.   

Q: What message did you have that you would like for audiences to remember beyond WFSD?

ML: Never take food safety for granted. Food is only safe if we all work together to keep it safe. And never forget: if it is not safe, it is not food!

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