What is WHO doing to help countries improve food safety?

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18 May 2010

Q: What is WHO doing to help developing countries respond to food safety issues?

A: Recent trends in global food production, processing, distribution, and preparation are creating an increasing demand for food safety research in order to ensure a safer global food supply. WHO has adopted a "farm to fork" approach in order to identify and focus efforts on those points of the food production chain where contamination of food is most likely to occur or most likely to be prevented.

To reduce the burden of foodborne diseases, WHO is working with countries to build and strengthen national food safety systems in order to effectively manage their food supply. Key areas of work include:

  • improving the surveillance of foodborne diseases and monitoring of chemicals;
  • improving the ability of Member States to have timely information on foodborne disease outbreaks and food contamination events, to share that information via the INFOSAN network of food safety authorities, and thus to mitigate the effects of foodborne disease outbreaks;
  • setting standards for the content and quality of food via the Codex Alimentarius Commission (together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations);
  • developing methods for the risk assessment of new foods, including nutrients and functional foods;
  • providing guidance on the containment of the antimicrobial resistance which can spread from animals to humans when the animals in question are consumed as food;
  • conducting laboratory and epidemiology training courses for the human health, animal health and food safety sectors through Global Foodborne Infections Network (a global network of laboratories and individuals involved in surveillance, isolation, identification and antimicrobial resistance testing of Salmonella) in order to improve the surveillance of foodborne diseases;
  • providing an external quality assurance programme and reference testing service and supplies to laboratories;
  • examining the safety of new food technologies, including foods derived from biotechnology;
  • building effective communication on food-related risks;
  • developing training and communications tools in support of good food handling and preparation practices: these include the Five keys to safer food;
  • increasing international cooperation on and support for food safety issues.

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