Key facts

  • According to the survey an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and it results in 4,20,000 death every year, which results in the loss of 33 million healthy lives every year.
  • Children under the age of  5 years  carry 40% of the foodborne diseases

with 1,25,000 deaths every year.

  • Diarrhoeal diseases are the most common diseases resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year.

Major food-related illnesses and causes

Chemical contamination can lead to acute poisoning or long-term diseases, such as cancer. Foodborne diseases may lead to long-lasting disability and death.


  • Listeria infection leads to unplanned abortions in pregnant women or death of newborn babies
  • Vibrio cholerae infects people through contaminated water or food. Symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting and profuse watery diarrhea, which may lead to severe dehydration and possibly death.


Some parasites, such as fish-borne trematodes, are only transmitted through food. Others, for example, tapeworms like Echinococcus spp, or Taenia solium, may infect people through food or direct contact with animals


Prions, infectious agents composed of protein, are unique in that they are associated with specific forms of neurodegenerative disease. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a prion disease in cattle, associated with the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans.


  • Naturally occurring toxins include mycotoxins, marine biotoxins, cyanogenic glycosides and toxins occurring in poisonous mushrooms. Staple foods like corn or cereals can contain high levels of mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin and ochratoxin, produced by mold on grain.
  • Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury cause neurological and kidney damage. Contamination by heavy metal in food occurs mainly through pollution of air, water, and soil.

Food safety: a public health priority

Unsafe food poses global health threats, endangering everyone. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with an underlying illness are particularly vulnerable. Every year 220 million children contract diarrhoeal diseases and 96 000 die.

Everyone can contribute to making food safe. Here are some examples of effective actions:

Policy-makers can:

  • integrate food safety into broader food policies and programs (e.g. nutrition and food security);
  • think globally and act locally to ensure the food produce domestically be safe internationally.

Food consumers can:

  • know the food they use (read labels on food package, make an informed choice, become familiar with common food hazards);
  • grow fruits and vegetables using the WHO Five Keys to Growing Safer Fruits and Vegetables to decrease microbial contamination.

WHO response

WHO aims to facilitate global prevention, detection, and response to public health threats associated with unsafe food. Ensuring consumer trust in their authorities, and confidence in the safe food supply is an outcome that WHO works to achieve.

To do this, WHO helps the Member States build capacity to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks by:

  • providing independent scientific assessments on microbiological and chemical hazards that form the basis for international food standards, guidelines, and recommendations.
  • helping improve national food systems and legal frameworks, and implement adequate infrastructure to manage food safety risks. The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) was developed by WHO and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to rapidly share information during food safety emergencies;
  • advocating for food safety as an important component of health security and for integrating food safety into national policies and programs in line with the International Health Regulations (IHR – 2005).

WHO works closely with FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and other international organizations to ensure food safety along the entire food chain from production to consumption.

Key Learnings: Food safety is paramount for the food regime as it helps us to gain a healthy lifestyle. Here we have to avoid chemicals as many organizations are giving priority to public health.

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