A 1.6 million people, including 40 per cent of children under 5, worldwide fall ill due to the consumption of unsafe food, said Saima Wazed, WHO Regional Director on Thursday, ahead of World Food Safety Day. 

World Food Safety Day, marked annually on June 7, was established by the UN General Assembly in 2018 to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect, and respond to public health threats associated with unsafe food. The theme this year is ‘Prepare for the unexpected.’

“Every day, approximately 1.6 million people worldwide fall ill due to the consumption of unsafe food,” said Saima, WHO Regional Director for South East Asia.

Of these 40 per cent are children under 5, already at a higher risk of malnutrition and mortality due to unsafe food, she added.

Saima said that unsafe food leads to reduced productivity and raises medical costs resulting from foodborne illnesses that amount to “an estimated annual loss of $110 billion, in low-and middle-income countries.”

The Regional Director noted that the South-East Asia Region bears the second-highest health burden, after Africa, due to the consumption of contaminated food. The region experiences an estimated 150 million illnesses and 175,000 every year.

Tropical climate, which promotes the spread of pests and advances the formation of naturally occurring toxins, coupled with the impacts of climate change are the reasons behind food contamination.

“Food safety is a collective responsibility, and governments, producers, and consumers need to play their role in ensuring food safety,” Saima said.

She called on governments to develop and regularly test the effectiveness of national food safety emergency response plans. The Regional Director said that producers or food business operators are responsible for implementing and updating food safety management plans.

She also called on consumers to empower themselves by practising safe food handling at home and reporting a food safety incident.

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