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    Safe food makes life good

    June 29, 2019

    Everyone has the right to have safe, nutritious and sufficient food. At least one in 10 people in the world fall ill due to contaminated food. With unsafe food, children cannot learn and adults cannot work. Human development will not take place.

    Safe food is critical in promoting health and ending hunger, two of the primary goals of the 2030 Agenda. In a world where the food supply chain has become more complex, any adverse food safety incident may have global negative effects on public health, trade and the economy.

    Yet, food safety is taken for granted. It is often invisible until you get food poisoning. Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances causes more than 200 diseases ranging from diarrhoea to cancer.

    The first-ever World Food Safety Day, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018 was celebrated on June 7, 2019, under the theme, “Food Safety – Everyone’s Business”. Everybody from farm to table has a role to play to ensure the food we consume is safe and will not cause damage to our health.

    Sri Lanka celebrated World Food Safety Day on June 24, 2019, at the BMICH under the patronage of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne with the participation of World Health Organization Sri Lanka Country Representative Dr. Razia Pendse and Assistant Representative (Programme) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) Dr. D.B.T Wijeratne and officials from the Health Ministry, provincial representatives and invitees from the food safety sector. The inaugural World Food Safety Day was an opportunity to strengthen efforts to ensure that the food we eat is safe. Whether you produce, process, sell or prepare food, you have a role in keeping food safe, for everybody along the food chain is responsible for food safety.

    The Minister in his address said, “Access to safe and nutritious food is the key to sustaining life and promoting good health. Unsafe or contaminated food can cause harm to one’s health and also cause diseases. The WHO estimates the annual global incidence of food-bourne diseases are around 600 million and children below five years carry 40 percent of the global food-bourne diseases burden with 125,000 deaths every year.

    In Sri Lanka too food safety is becoming a significant health challenge. Ensuring food safety has to begin with production at the farm level. Misuse of agrochemicals, including pesticides, growth hormones and veterinary drugs may have harmful effects on human health. As a country with a strong agricultural base, it is important that we apply good agricultural and animal husbandry practices to reduce microbial and chemical hazards. We are already witnessing negative health effects of contaminated water sources in some parts of the country, widely attributed to the growing incidence of CKDu.

    “Food-handling practices in the food catering sector deserves much attention since some practices often expose food and food ingredients to cross-contamination and temperature abuse. Our officers have found the areas in many food outlets and they do not meet even minimum standards of food hygiene and safety. I urge media to expose such poor hygienic practices and create awareness among the consumers and to avoid giving publicity for such substandard practices,” the Minister said.

    The consumption of contaminated food has caused illnesses and deaths in millions of people. The WHO has recognised food contamination as a global challenge stating that “food contamination that occurs in one place may affect the health of consumers living on the other side of the planet.”

    The salmonella bacteria are considered the primary cause of food contamination. The contamination of food by these bacteria has proven to be a serious issue amongst the masses causing an estimated 93.8 million cases of gastroenteritis of which, nearly 80.3 million are food-bourne (Majowics et al, 2010). Fresh fruit and vegetables have been identified as the primary transmission vehicles of salmonella.

    The salmonella bacteria belong to the family Enterobacteriaceae. This gram-negative bacteria is usually motile with peritrichous flagella and are non-spore forming. They reside in the intestinal tract of animals and humans and are also found in the environment. The genus salmonella is classified mainly as two species: Salmonella enterica and Salmonella bongori which also contain subspecies with a collective of 2,700 serotypes all which can grow and survive on in a large number of foods (Harris et al, 2003). Therefore, in order to prevent salmonella contamination, consumer awareness is a must.

    The contamination of food and other substances by the salmonella bacteria is proving to be a major issue because it causes diseases. The salmonella bacteria may enter the food chain and disrupt its ebb and flow. It may enter at any point through crops, farming, livestock feed and food manufacturing, processing and retailing. Fresh produce, though previously thought to be safe for consumption, may be the main source of transmission of the bacteria. Therefore, no one is ever really safe from getting infected by these fast-spreading bacteria.

    A few of the main food products that are commonly known as vehicles of transmission of the bacteria are raw and undercooked eggs, egg products, raw milk or milk products, meat, poultry, tomatoes, lettuce bean and alfalfa sprouts, mixed salads, raw almonds, cantaloupes, fresh fish, farmed and imported frozen shrimp.

    These foods get contaminated by bacteria in many ways. Eggs, being the number one transmitter, get contaminated during its conception. If the chicken that lays the egg is infected with salmonella, the bacteria can pass into the egg through its faecal matter once they sit on the eggs. The process of contamination can be divided into two parts: vertical transmission (primary contamination) which occurs when the salmonella travels to the egg while it is inside the hen and before it forms its shell, and horizontal transmission (secondary contamination) which occurs when the cells migrate to the egg albumen from the outside of the shell after the egg has formed. Egg surface contamination is associated with many serotypes, while the infection in the yolk and the white are associated with S. enteritidis.

    Meat is contaminated by human touch. It is handled by many workers during slaughter and processing. It gets contaminated if meat bleeds during the skinning process or when handling the carcass.

    Fresh fruit and vegetables are also known to be transmission vehicles since contamination may occur at any of the many steps in the supply processing chain, for example, harvesting, washing, trimming, dehydrating and blending. The behaviour of salmonella that ensures its survival is controlled by various ecological and environmental factors such as pH (optimum pH for growth of salmonella is approximately neutral, with values > 9.0 and < 4.0 being bactericidal), chemical composition, storage temperature, moist condition, presence of natural or added antimicrobial compounds, processing factors such as heat application and physical handling.

    Symptoms of diseases caused by salmonella, specifically the disease salmonellosis can range from minor diseases such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps to more extreme signs such as blood in stools. Most cases of salmonellosis are mild, but there are cases where the symptoms have proved to be life-threatening. The severity of the disease depends on host factors as well as the serotype of salmonella. Presently, microbiology tests are advanced in such a way to detect this pathogen fast.

    The growth and contamination by salmonella can be controlled and minimised by following a few precautionary and preventive steps. According to the FAO (2011), some important measures of controlling salmonella growth are farm location, layout, equipment and clean water supply, harvesting, on-farm post-harvest handling, transport of aquaculture products from the farm, employee health and hygiene and physical approaches such as proper refrigeration, cooking before consumption and irradiation. Chemical approaches include the use of antimicrobial agents such as chlorine which is the widely-used decontaminating agent in the seafood industry.

    The most vital way of ensuring food safety is to make the public and all food handlers involved in the supply chain aware of the danger of bacterial contamination and ensure adoption of simple precautions such as the use of clean gloves and clean water when handling raw food items, proper storage, and proper preparation of food.

    Last modified on Saturday, 29 June 2019 17:47

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