351,000 deaths were recorded in 2010 from eating contaminated foods.
Eating food contaminated with bugs leads to more than half a billion cases of illness a year, the World Health Organization warns. It says this “global threat” contributed to 351,000 deaths in 2010.
Unsafe foods, for example undercooked meat, can cause 200 problems – from diarrhoea to cancer. But changes in food production mean there are more opportunities for meals to harbour harmful bugs or chemicals, experts say.
Culinary caution Unsafe foodstuffs can contain many types of harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals. Examples include undercooked meat, fruits and vegetables contaminated with faeces and shellfish containing marine toxins.
But the WHO says investigating these outbreaks has become increasingly challenging as single plates of food often have ingredients from many countries.
In its first WHO report on this issue, its director-general Dr Margaret Chan warns: “A local food problem can quickly turn into an international emergency.
“Food production has been industrialised, and its trade and distribution have been globalised. “These changes introduce multiple opportunities for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals.”
The analysis, which pulls together scientific literature from across the globe, shows:
Experts say illnesses caused by food also carry major economic risks.
They estimate the E. coli outbreak in Germany in 2011 cost about US$1.3bn (£876m) in losses for farmers and industries.
WHO leaders are calling on governments to urgently strengthen food safety systems.
On April 7, the WHO launches its food safety campaign, From Farm to Plate.
It aims to prompt the public and governments to consider where individual ingredients in meals come from and question whether these are properly and safely handled at every stage.