How we can all help make the world’s food supply safer: Celebrating World Food Safety Day

Above: A vendor selling his produce

Almost one in ten people in the world become ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 die every year. More than 30% of those deaths are of children under the age of five. The numbers are most certainly higher when underreported figures are considered.

In addition to that preventable loss of life, $110 billion USD is lost annually in productivity and medical expenses resulting from unsafe food in low and middle-income countries. There is a high burden placed on public health systems, particularly in countries with less stable systems.

Food borne illnesses are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemicals, and other infectious agents. Chemical contamination includes natural toxins, such as aflatoxin which can be found in groundnuts, corn, maize, spices, rice, and other foods. It occurs when mold develops before or after a harvest.

World Food Safety Day is an annual day to recognize the importance of food safety to human and environmental health. The world’s food producers and agribusinesses have a significant role to play to help ensure a stronger food system and food safety. Every year, MEDA works with more than 200,000 direct clients– most of them in the agri-food market system.

Above: fresh produce on display

In Jordan, basic and advanced food safety training was a key component of our support to food processing firms and individuals. In Kenya, similar training was provided to agri-SMEs and producers growing or processing mango and avocado. We’ve done the same in multiple other countries and projects, including in Ghana, Tanzania, and Nigeria where aflatoxin is an issue for the groundnut sector and can affect production and limit producers’ ability to sell their products.

We’re also currently testing a new, standard approach to agricultural production that will guide us in taking our work to the next level, including ensuring that environment and climate change remains central to our approach in agriculture. This new approach includes 13 objectives, one of which is dedicated solely to food safety and post-harvest management. Our goal is that in all country projects, producers understand agri-food safety risks and manage product handling and processing to avoid risks, participate in required product traceability systems, and minimize agri-food product loss or quality degradation due to improper post-harvest storage, handling, and management. Through local partners, producers, or groups such as cooperatives will be supported to identify the best practices they can use to achieve this goal. In many cases, producers are already aware of what is needed and build on traditional knowledge and ways of farming that respect the environment and human health.

Above: Food vendors selling their produce

But the burden of food safety shouldn’t only be on the shoulders of small-scale producers. Consumers, businesses, and governments have an equally significant role to play. By effectively working with all stakeholders, we can not only help ensure food safety and limit negative human health impacts but also build stronger food systems.

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  • Jennifer King

    Former Technical Director, Market Systems. Jennifer is a sustainable development professional with technical and programmatic expertise in agri-food market systems and private sector development, women’s economic empowerment (WEE), and marketing and communications in various regions including Canada, South Asia, Nicaragua, and Africa. Jennifer currently leads MEDA's Market Systems Technical Unit. Previously, she managed a six-year women's economic empowerment and agri-food project in Myanmar.

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