Food Safety: Need of the Hour

“We need to understand that the food prepared will be consumed by someone and that food needs to be prepared in a safe environment”

I. What is Food Safety?

food safety

Food safety is described as handling, preparation and storage of food in a safe way to prevent food borne illness. One of the most important aspects of practicing food safety involves preventing foods from becoming contaminated. Food safety has become an important buzz as it is creating severe health hazards. Unsafe food transmits diseases from one person to other as it serves as a media for bacterial growth resulting in food poisoning. Debates are going on to find out the impact of genetically modified food on health and on further generations and environment. In under developed countries the food preparation methods are less safe as compared to developed countries. The major issue in food safety is availability of safe water. Generally we can prevent food poisoning, if we maintain hygienic conditions. According to WHO, the five important principles of food hygiene are:

1. Prevent contamination of food with pathogens spreading from people, pets, and pests.
2. Separate raw and cooked foods to prevent the contamination of cooked foods.
3. Cook foods for the appropriate length of time and at the appropriate temperature to kill pathogens.
4. Store food at the proper temperature.
5. Basic food safety should start from the kitchen itself. Use safe water and hygienic cooking materials.

II. What are the causes of Food Contamination?

• Bacteria and viruses cause food contamination with severe symptoms. The symptoms may differ with the causal organism.
• Parasites stay as hosts to many diseases in human body. The most common food borne parasites in United States are protozoa, roundworms, and tapeworms.
• Mold, toxins and contaminants are the factors for all kinds of food contaminations. Some food poisoning cases may be occurred due to natural toxins or chemical toxins.
• Allergens cause abnormal response to a food triggered by your body’s immune system. Some foods like nuts, milk, eggs and seafood causes allergic reactions in people with food allergies.

The diseases caused by food contamination are as follows:

The list of diseases caused by pathogens or their toxins (poisons) that are transmitted through the intake of contaminated food and water is a long one. Most of these diseases affect the gastro-intestinal tract, but some affect other organs, too. Food-borne pathogens include viruses such as the hepatitis A virus; bacteria such as those that cause food poisoning and various forms of gastroenteritis, cholera, typhoid fever and botulism; protozoa such as E. histolytica, the causative agent of amoebiasis; and, other parasites such as ascaris, other roundworms and tapeworms.

People with a high risk of food borne diseases are:

• Infants
• Pregnant Women
• Young children
• Adults
• People with weakened immune systems
• Individuals with certain chronic diseases

The diseases caused by food contamination are as follows:

1. Campylobacter jejuni

• Sources: Raw poultry, unpasteurized milk
• Symptoms: Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, may last 7 last 7-10 days

2. Listeria

• Sources: Raw milk, raw seafood, seafood, soft cheeses
• Symptoms: 7-30 day onset; miscarriage, sepsis, meningitis

3. Salmonella

• Sources: Raw or undercooked poultry, poultry, eggs
• Symptoms: 6-48 hr onset; fever, chills, vomiting, abdominal cramps diarrhea

4. Hepatitis A virus

• Sources: Undercooked or raw fish, human contact
• Symptoms: 15-2020 day onset; day onset; liver inflammation, tiredness, nausea and vomiting

5. Coli O157:H7

• Sources: Undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk products, person to person.
• Symptoms: 12-72 hr onset; bloody diarrhea, kidney failure,

6. Staphylococcus

• Sources: Humans are carriers; poor food handling procedures
• Symptoms: 8-24 hr. onset; mimics flu; lasts

III. What are the tips for Food Safety?

tips for food safety

The food poisoning can be done by pathogens and toxins during production, processing, distribution, preparation or storage of food. The below tips can be useful in supporting food safety procedures:

• Buy and consume only food that is processed with safety standards.
• Cook the food completely to kill the disease causing pathogens.
• Fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly to avoid toxins. This will not totally eliminate pathogens, but their number can be significantly reduced for the body’s other defenses to take care of.
• Wash food items for cooking before chopping or cutting.
• Wash with soap and water all utensils, chopping boards and kitchen areas before preparing meals.
• Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing, eating and handling food.
• Eat cooked food within 1-2 hours after cooking.
• Refrigerate leftovers within 1-2 hours.
• Re-heat leftovers thoroughly before eating.
• Do not allow contact or mixing of raw and cooked foods.
• Protect food from rodents, cockroaches, flies and other insects.
• Consume milk only if it has been pasteurized.
• Ensure that your drinking water is safe.

IV. What aspects need to be checked before purchasing Food items?

Make sure that below aspects are checked thoroughly while purchasing the food items:

aspects need to be checked before purchasing food items

1. Check for Cleanliness: Does your supermarket, grocery store or vegetable store look clean?
2. Separate Certain Foods: Whether the raw meat, poultry and seafood are packed in separate plastic bags or not.
3. Inspect Cans, Bottles, and Jars: Don’t buy foods in spoiled cans, bottles, packs and jars with broken seals or lids.
4. Examine Frozen Food Packaging: Avoid frozen food packages which are open, torn or crushed on the edges.
5. Pick Out Fresh Eggs Carefully: Buy refrigerated eggs only, making sure they’re clean and none are cracked.

V. What are the initiatives of Government of India towards Food Safety?

The government of India established the food safety and standards authority of India (FSSAI) act in 2006 to handle food related issues in various ministries and departments. Various central acts like prevention of food adulteration act, 1954, fruit products order, 1955, meat food products order, 1973, vegetable oil products (control) Order, 1947, edible oils packaging (regulation) order 1988, solvent extracted oil, de-oiled meal and edible flour (control) order, 1967, milk and milk products order, 1992 etc will be cancelled after commencement of FSS Act, 2006.

FSSAI has been authorized by the FSS Act, 2006 to perform below functions:

• Framing of regulations to lay down the standards and guidelines in relation to articles of food and specifying appropriate system on various notified standards.
• Laying down mechanisms and guidelines for accreditation of certification bodies engaged in certification of food safety management system for food businesses.
• Laying down procedure and guidelines for accreditation of laboratories and notification of the accredited laboratories.
• To provide scientific advice and technical support to central government and state governments in the matters of framing the policy and rules in areas which have a direct or indirect bearing of food safety and nutrition.
• Collect and collate data regarding food consumption, incidence and prevalence of biological risk, contaminants in food and residues of various contaminants in foods products, identification of emerging risks and introduction of rapid alert system.
• Creating an information network across the country so that the public, consumers, panchayats etc receive rapid, reliable and objective information about food safety and issues of concern.
• Provide training programmes for persons who are involved or intended to get involved in food businesses.
• Contribute to the development of international technical standards for food, sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards.
• Promote general awareness about food safety and food standards.

VI. What are the initiatives taken by WHO towards Food Safety?

initiatives taken by WHO towards food safety

Recent WHO report on food safety reveals below interesting facts:

• Food safety

Unsafe food causes many acute and life-long diseases, ranging from diarrheal diseases to various forms of cancer. WHO estimates that food borne and waterborne diarrheal diseases taken together kill about 2.2 million people annually, 1.9 million of them are noted as children only. WHO’s mission is to provide assistance to the member states to strengthen their programmes on food safety from the initial stages to final consumption.

• Zoonoses

Zoonotic diseases are caused due to the infections which are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and humans. The greatest risk for zoonotic disease transmission occurs at the human-animal interface through direct or indirect human exposure to animals, their products and/or their environments. More than 60% of the newly identified infectious insects affect the people by originating the pathogens from animals.

• Microbiological risks in food

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are formulating policies for the development of risk based approaches towards the management of food safety procedures.

• Chemical risks in food

The factor which affects the food safety is the chemical contamination which is a worldwide public health concern. Contamination may occur through environmental pollution of the air, water and soil, such as the case with toxic metals, PCBs and dioxins, or through the intentional use of various chemicals, such as pesticides, animal drugs and other agrochemicals.
Since the year 1976, WHO has formulated the Global Environment Monitoring System and Food Contamination Monitoring and Assessment Programme (GEMS/Food) with regard to public health and trade. Food additives and procedures in food manufacturing system also causes adverse health effects on a person.

• Biotechnology (GM foods) and nanotechnology

Recent developments in food science and technology have made massive contribution to the field of food safety. WHO has been addressing a wide range of issues in the field of biotechnology and human health, including safety evaluation of vaccines produced using biotechnology, human cloning and gene therapy.

• Food borne diseases

The changing polluted environment causes food borne diseases in infants, young, children and elders.


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