Unsafe food may sometimes cause only mild acute symptoms, but it can also lead to chronic diseases such as cancer, or affect nutritional intake, experts say.
As part of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Talk today around World Food Safety Day, a webinar was held to discuss the burden of contaminated food.
This activity touches on a range of health consequences of unsafe food resulting from microbiological hazards such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals and toxins. It also describes how WHO attempts to quantify the burden by estimating overall morbidity, deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs).
The WHO Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiological Reference Group (FERG) published estimates for 2015 using 2010 data. Updated data will be released in 2025, but the reference year has not been determined given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. FERG 2021-2025 Chair Rob Lake stated that foodborne infections cause considerable mortality and morbidity.
“Foodborne illness is complex, with a large number of different hazards, with different health outcomes and impacts occurring on different timescales. Another complicating factor is that food is not the only pathways, so we need to evaluate different exposure routes. We often use limited data.”
Bringing attention to the topic, don’t ignore parasites
Lake said the next estimate intends to include a greater number of chemical hazards to better represent the category.
“The Chemicals and Toxins Working Group is working hard to address this issue. We should remember that food poisoning is often thought of as a form of diarrheal or intestinal Hazards can have very different health outcomes from foodborne exposure,” he said.
“Overall, we hope that these estimates will be useful to food regulators and Hopefully, countries will be stimulated to develop improved food safety systems, risk management programs and good manufacturing practices. By their very nature, it will be difficult to convince people of the importance of these diseases until we can measure their impact.”
Dr. Lucy Robertson, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, says it is important not to ignore the influence of parasites.
“Parasites are complex and come in all shapes and sizes. Foodborne parasites are often overlooked. Protozoa, helminths, trematodes are diverse and the human burden is high. Often associated with many long-term severe or chronic diseases because many of the symptoms are severe and can be fatal. They are also often associated with vulnerable populations,” she said.
Robertson discussed Cryptosporidium, saying transmission was not apparent due to the gap between infection and symptoms. Outbreaks in the EU and North America are generally waterborne, but treatment options are limited for vulnerable populations.
Another example is Trypanosoma cruzi, the cause of Chagas disease. It was not included in the first set of FERG estimates, but growing reports of foodborne transmission include outbreaks due to the contamination of juices made from acai berries with infected reduviid bugs.
Intestinal Infections and Chemicals
Dr. Tesfaye Gobena, Haramaya University, Ethiopia, presented the burden of intestinal disease based on estimates published in 2015.
“The problem disproportionately affects children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. The pathogen causes acute gastroenteritis, which includes diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. In addition, there are other serious long-term consequences such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), reactive arthritis and developmental delays,” he said.
“Food safety remains a level of challenge globally, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Unsafe food has serious health, social and economic consequences. Interventions need to be Start. Ongoing estimates of enteric foodborne disease are critical to prioritizing the problem and informing policy makers.”
Dr. Lea Sletting Jakobsen, Technical University of Denmark It talked about harmful chemicals in food, including aflatoxins and dioxins.
Food may become contaminated in different ways, including naturally occurring contamination, food contact materials, contamination or processing practices. Health outcomes and severity vary, such as aflatoxins causing liver cancer and dioxins causing male infertility.
“It is generally accepted that the burden from chemicals (and not just food) is underestimated. It is important to emphasize that the absence of an estimated burden does not mean that there is no burden. Means we are facing a huge data gap,” she said.
“One reason is that disease cases are rarely traced back to the causative agent. Many health effects are multicausal, with long lag times from chronic exposure to disease onset. We are exposed to multiple chemical substances, and have these combined effects. Through FERG and several other projects, the coverage of chemical loads is being expanded. More compounds are being studied with the aim of quantifying the burden, which in doing so can guide future research.”
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