BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Dangers of Food Contamination



If you have ever developed abdominal pain and discomfort with frequent stooling, chances are that you are just part of the 1 in 10 people who have suffered from diarrhoeal diseases, the most common result of food contamination. Diarrhoea is implicated in, and has been reported as a cause of over 200,000 deaths worldwide. About 600 million people fall ill due to food contamination leading to economic losses of over $950 billion. With the involvement of larger group of people- international and intercontinental outbreaks of food poisoning like the fipronil egg contamination case in Eurasia and many other cases, it has become clear that this problem is worldwide public health priority essential to achieve food safety, better nutrition and food security. Although anyone can get affected, vulnerable populations such as the elderly, sick and children especially those under 5 years of age, are more likely to be affected and even die from food borne diseases which result from contaminated food. Also, people living in developing parts of the world like Africa and Asia (especially South East Asia) are more likely to get food borne diseases due to poor food handling, sanitation, waste management and weak food regulatory laws.

Even though these features are risk factors for contamination, they are not direct causes. The major causes of food contamination include:

  • Biological contaminants: These are microorganisms including bacteria, parasites, viruses, fungi and even the novel infectious agents, prions. Notable agents are salmonella (the cause of typhoid fever), E. coli (the cause of diarrhoea), vibrio (the cause of cholera), rota and noro viruses, the prion protein that caused the disastrous disease, kuru.
  • Chemical contaminants: Chemical substances like pesticides, herbicides, food additives and adulterants added throughout the process of food production and processing can result in contamination. Also, contaminants may find their way into food due to other reasons like poor waste management, water and land pollution.
  • Physical contaminants: These are foreign objects like metal, glass, hair, plastic etc that could be found in food due to poor food production, handling and cooking practices.

It is important to stress the importance of food safety which is the absence of hazards in food. Food safety actually involves everyone from producer to consumer, from farm to fork. That is why the WHO in the quest for better food safety education have provided 5 ways of proper food hygiene which include keeping food clean, separating raw and cooked food, cooking thoroughly, keeping food at safe temperatures and using safe water and raw materials. Food safety education should also involve teaching the public to make better food choices and other good food handling practices like proper spacing when storing foods in the refrigerator and following producer directions on containers that should not be put in a microwave. Those involved in food production and processing must be regulated by strong regulatory laws from the government who should be influenced by WHO/FAO codex alimentarius.

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