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WHO says it is Time to Actively Fight Deadly Foodborne Illnesses

Update Date: Dec 03, 2015 10:39 AM EST
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The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging everyone to actively fight against potentially fatal foodborne illnesses.

The United Nations' health agency reported Thursday that every year, about one in 10 people, or more than 600 million, get sick from eating contaminated food with about 420,000 cases ending in death. Roughly a third of these deaths or 125,000 cases occur in children younger than five.

The researchers found that diarrheal diseases were the most common with children having a higher risk. WHO reported that this type of food borne illness is usually caused by eating raw and/or undercooked meat and foods that carry norovirus, salmonella and E. coli.

"The data we are publishing is only a very conservative estimate, we are sure that the real figure is bigger," Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of WHO's Department of Food Safety, said reported by Reuters.

For this research, the team had examined foodborne illnesses that are caused by bacteria, viruses, toxins, chemicals and parasites. They found that although certain foodborne illness pop up everywhere, others, such as foodborne cholera and typhoid fever, occur more frequently in lower income countries.

Overall, the WHO African Region has the highest cases of foodborne diseases with at 91 million infections and 137,000 deaths per year.

"The risk of foodborne diseases is most severe in low- and middle-income countries, linked to preparing food with unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage; lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation," the WHO report wrote.

The organization is advising countries and food industries to make their inspection policies stricter so that the risk of foodborne illness can be reduced. The experts added that if countries and companies do not better monitor how food gets packaged and produced, risk of spreading these types of illnesses will remain high since countries export food products everyday.

"If there is one country where food safety is weak and this country exports food to other countries, (it) becomes the weakest chain in the whole food production system," Miyagishima explained.

Expert Dr. Arie Hendrik Havelaar of the University of Florida added, "It is much better to invest in training and education of street vendors than to try to penalize them. That would be an important strategy for many countries in the world to improve the food safety situation...A large part of these foodborne diseases are preventable."

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