The World Health Organization (WHO) states that eating unsafe foods can lead to a variety of health problems, including as stunted growth and development, micronutrient deficiencies, infectious and noncommunicable diseases, and mental illness. Every year, one in ten individuals worldwide are impacted by food-borne illnesses. The African Population and Health Research Center’s Antonina Mutoro, a nutrition researcher, describes the reasons of food contamination and ways to reduce illness risk.
Many people lack access to wholesome food, which is a fundamental human right, in part due to food poisoning. This is the term used to describe the presence of potentially dangerous substances and microbes in food.
The World Health Organization estimates that food contamination kills over 420,000 people annually and affects almost one in ten individuals worldwide.
Foodborne illness outbreaks can
- Physical: extraneous things in food may be harmful or harbor microbes that cause illness. Metal, glass, and stone fragments can cut or chip teeth, as well as provide a choking threat. Another physical contaminant is hair.
- Biological: Living things in food, such as pests (weevils, cockroaches, and rodents), microbes (bacteria, viruses, and protozoa), or parasites (worms), can spread illness.
- Chemical: Poisoning can result from chemicals such as pesticide residue, soap residue, and poisons created by microorganisms like aflatoxins.
Inadequate food handling practices are the primary source of food contamination. This includes not washing your hands when you should, such as right before or right after using the restroom, blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Other risky practices include storing raw and cooked food in the same location, not washing fruits and vegetables with clean water, and using soiled utensils. Food should not be handled by sick persons. And you should stay away from eating anything that is undercooked, especially meat.
Food contamination might also result from subpar farming techniques. This involves employing a lot of pesticides and antibiotics, as well as using contaminated water and soil to cultivate fruits and vegetables. It is also dangerous to utilize sewage or animal manure that has not been sufficiently decomposed.
Numerous diseases can be brought on by fresh meals. For example, it is not uncommon for human excrement to contaminate meat, fruits, and vegetables in Kenya. This is a result of food being washed in tainted water. Additionally, bacteria and excrement can be directly transferred onto plant leaves or fruits by flies that are transporting pollutants.
Another frequent source of food contamination is street food. Because they are inexpensive and readily available, these foods are commonly consumed in low- and middle-income nations.
The most frequent pollutants in food are chemical and biological elements. They are responsible for over 200 food-borne illnesses, such as listeriosis, cholera, and typhoid. Symptoms of foodborne diseases typically include vomiting, diarrhea, and stomachaches.
Food-borne infections can cause neurological conditions, organ failure, and even death in extreme circumstances. Therefore, if you start to suffer symptoms like prolonged diarrhea or vomiting after eating or drinking, it’s best to get medical help right once.
Youngsters under five are especially susceptible to food-borne infections. They are 40% responsible for food-borne illness. The immune system of a youngster is still maturing and is not as strong as that of an adult in warding off illnesses.
Additionally, food-borne infections have a detrimental effect on the economy, particularly in low- and middle-income nations. According to World Bank estimates, treating chronic disorders in these nations comes at a cost of more than $15 billion yearly. Therefore, putting preventive measures in place is crucial.
Simple steps can be taken to prevent food contamination, such as washing your hands before preparing, serving, or eating meals; before feeding children; after using the restroom; or after disposing of feces; wearing clean, protective clothing during food preparation; properly storing food; washing raw foods with clean water; separating cooked and raw foods; and using different utensils for meats and food intended for raw consumption.
Food contamination can be avoided with the use of good farming techniques, such as using clean water and applying pesticides in the right ratios.
In addition, food vendors must be supplied with clean water and adequate sanitation, as well as instruction on food safety.
I work on the Healthy Food Africa project as a member of the research team at the African Population and Health Research Center. This initiative aims to improve food security in urban informal settlements by promoting food safety. The initiative involves developing a food safety training handbook for street food vendors in Kenya in close collaboration with the Nairobi county administration. This will significantly increase the city’s food safety.
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