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WHO helps countries assess impact of foodborne illness

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WHO helps countries assess impact of foodborne illness

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a handbook for countries to measure their foodborne disease burden.

The guide aims to help nations identify food safety system needs and data gaps so they can strengthen national infrastructure and better protect public health.

It does not cover chemical hazards, including food allergens. Data requirements and methods for these hazards will be dealt with in a future publication.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said the handbook will help countries collect and analyze data to inform investments in food safety.

“WHO will continue to work with partners with a one health approach to keep communities safe from foodborne disease,” he said.

New stats by 2025
Figures published in 2015 estimated there were 600 million cases of foodborne illness and 420,000 deaths in 2010. Children younger than 5 years old are particularly at high risk as 120,000 of them die from unsafe food.

There are more than 250 different food hazards that cause various health issues such as acute or long-term illness or even death. This first report looked at the global public health burden of infections based on 31 foodborne hazards.

WHO is updating the burden of foodborne diseases with estimates of incidence, mortality and disease burden expected by 2025. The organization is also accepting comments on its food safety strategy until June 18.

The Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) has been renewed with 26 experts until 2024 including Beau B. Bruce of the CDC, Sandra Hoffmann from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Elaine Scallan Walter at the Colorado School of Public Health and  Felicia Wu of Michigan State University.

Foodborne diseases are preventable but this depends on informed policy-making, political commitment, and effective intervention strategies focused on the main problems, according to WHO officials.

Webinar on guide in late June
Results from country specific burden of disease estimate studies will provide the evidence needed to rank and prioritize risks, allocate resources and prevention measures, support the development of national risk-based food safety systems, and promote participation in setting international food standards.

Such work has already been done in Albania, Japan, Thailand and Uganda. Issues found included data gaps, the need for different authorities to provide access to data, and strengthening capacity of microbiological and chemical laboratories.

Foodborne Disease Epidemiology, Surveillance and Control in African LMIC (FOCAL) is a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development until October 2022. It will estimate the burden of foodborne diseases in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania.

A 90-minute webinar to discuss the guide on June 29 will be moderated by Francesco Branca, director in the department of nutrition and food safety. Other speakers are Rob Lake, from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited in New Zealand; Sara Pires, of the National Food Institute in Denmark; Amare Ayalew, at the African Union Commission and Lapo Mughini Gras, from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands.

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