The World Health Organization (WHO) said that annually, one in 10 people around the world get sick due to contaminated food. Out of an estimated 600 million people who fall ill, about 420,000 die from food poisoning and many of the deaths involve young children.
A WHO report urged the industries and governments around the globe to improve food- and factory-related controls and infections in light of the newly-released global estimates for preventable food-borne complications. Temporary symptoms of food-borne illnesses include diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. However, if left unchecked, they can also lead to long-term and serious health complications including arthritis, epilepsy, liver and kidney failures, brain disorders and cancer.
"The data we are publishing is only a very conservative estimate. We are sure that the real figure is bigger," said WHO's Department of Food Safety director Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima.
The WHO report also looked at the process in which the food is traded. Miyagishima explained how countries with low food safety guidelines become the weakest link in the global food production chain, especially if they export food worldwide. In some countries, the mishandling of food by street vendors also causes problems.
Dr. Arie Hendrik Havelaar from the University of Florida stressed that educating and training street vendors in proper food handling and preparation is better, compared to a penalty system. Havelaar led 150 WHO scientists who conducted the agency report. While the highest death rates occur mostly in poverty-stricken developing countries, there have been many outbreaks of food poisoning in Europe and the U.S. as well.
"Our results show that the biggest burden is in Africa and in Southeast Asia, and there the death rates are highest, including those of children under five years of age," said Havelaar. About 40 percent of the total food-borne cases documented annually worldwide happen to children below five, who also make up 30 percent of the documented deaths. Putting it in perspective, every year, 125,000 young children die from food poisoning, which often stems from consuming uncooked or raw meat and contaminated eggs, dairy products and even fresh produce.
Food-borne diseases in Africa stem from salmonella, cyanide-laced cassava, chemical molds that grow on corn and grain stored inappropriately, and pork tapeworm.
The WHO report is available online on the agency's website.
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