Africa bears brunt of unsafe food deaths totalling 351,000 a year

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Unsafe food is responsible for an estimated 351,000 deaths a year and children under five are the victims of contamination in more than 40 per cent of cases, UN health experts said Thursday.

Unveiling new data, World Health Organization

Children are very vulnerable to sickness linked to unsafe food. Here, a child eats discarded airplane meals at Dandora dumpsite in Nairobi. © David Gough/IRIN

said that the globalisation of the food industry has created new risks for consumers as the production chain “becomes very, very long”.

African countries are the worst affected by foodborne illnesses, according to WHO, which wants a less-fragmented approach to food safety by governments.

Daniel Johnson has more:

It’s an unpalatable thought, but the food we eat is a smorgasbord of potential infection, according to Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima.

He heads up the World Health Organization’s food safety department and he’s just announced 351,000 deaths globally from 22 different foodborne viral and bacterial diseases in a year.

The biggest killer was Salmonella, which caused 52,000 deaths in 2010, followed by Ecoli (37,000) and norovirus (35,000).

Armed with these findings, WHO wants to see governments take action on food safety, which is the focus of World Health Day on 7 April.

Failing to act can have catastrophic effects, according to Dr Miyagishima, who says that globalization has made food production a hugely complicated process.

“So if one product is contaminated, either at the production stage or at the transformation stage, by the time you find out that something is wrong, the same product with contaminated lots are already distributed or re-exported to dozens of countries and integrated into hundreds of different foods.”

African countries have the highest death toll from unsafe food, followed by south-east Asian countries, according to Dr Miyagishima.

He blamed the array of government departments involved in regulating food production while also highlighting the link between foodborne disease, poor sanitation and inadequate medical care.

WHO says consumers can protect themselves by doing things as simple as washing their food and keeping raw and cooked foods apart.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations

Duration: 1’27”