Food systems are rapidly changing, bringing greater attention to issues of food safety. Growing international connectivity of food markets involves the lengthening of supply chains and a proliferation of actors involved in bringing food from the farm to the consumer. Consequently, the detection and elimination of foodborne risks is becoming both more complex and more difficult.

Why food safety matters?

It is increasingly recognised that food safety is a significant threat not only to public health but also to income, trade and nutrition. The broad impacts of foodborne hazards argue for integrated solutions across the entire food system.

While no consumer deliberately eats unsafe food, except in extreme situations of famine, millions of people unknowingly challenge their nutrition and health every day by eating food that carries serious risks. Detecting the presence of the agents that make food unsafe is not straightforward. Harmful bacteria, viruses, natural toxins, and chemicals may be present as chemical residues or carried in the matrix of food itself but invisible to the naked eye. Food safety policy, regulation, surveillance are therefore fundamental challenges for governments which seek to enhance the dietary quality and nutrition of their citizens.

Most affected regions

Food safety is an area of particular concern for low- and middleincome countries where regulatory, surveillance, and control systems are unable to address the range of potential hazards. The regions most affected by the burden of foodborne diseases are Africa, followed by South-East Asia, with marked sub-regional variations. People living in low-income sub-regions are likely to bear the greatest burden for a number of reasons:

  • Unsafe water used for cleaning and processing food
  • Poor agricultural practices
  • Poor food handling, including the inappropriate use of agricultural chemicals
  • The absence of adequate food storage infrastructure
  • No access to alternative foods when staple crops – such as maize – are contaminated

Connecting food safety, dietary quality and good nutrition

With growing international concern over unsafe food, it is important that policies in agriculture and the food system are designed to ensure both the nutritional quality and the safety of the foods we eat. This policy brief takes a systems approach consistent with HACCP and is directly linked to the food environment model advanced by the Global Panel in its 2014 Technical Brief "How Can Agriculture and Food System Policies Improve Nutrition?" This approach helps to identify opportunities for policy coherence and synergy across these important and related goals. Recommendations are provided for policymakers on actions that should be taken to promote food safety, dietary quality and good nutrition simultaneously.

The policy brief

The brief "Assuring Safe Food Systems: Policy Options for a Healthier Food Supply" reviews food safety issues that are critical to poor and vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries. Assuring the safety of global food systems will require

coordinated actions across policy, regulations, surveillance, and control measures to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Every government needs to pay close attention to these issues and invest in the appropriate steps, from production through to consumption.

This brief was launched by the Global Panel at its joint high-level meeting with the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) on 12 April 2016 in Accra Ghana. The meeting and launch took place to coincide with the 12th Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program Partnership Platform in Accra, Ghana.

More about the joint Global Panel and PACA high-level meeting in Accra

Press release

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