World Organisation for Animal Health

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About Food Safety

Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases. Diarrhoeal diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year.

Safe food is often taken for granted. However, foodborne diseases (FBD) which encompass a wide spectrum of illnesses are a growing public health problem worldwide, especially amongst the very young and very old. A staggering number of the human population falls ill as a result of ingestion of foodstuffs contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites.

 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),

  • Every year about 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world - fall ill after eating contaminated food; and
  •  More than 400,000 die every year because of FBDs


Given that the contamination of food may occur at any stage in the process from food production to consumption (“farm to fork”), food safety is best assured by an integrated, multidisciplinary approach that considers the entire food chain. A food safety system should take into account the complexity of food production, the globalisation of the food supply and should be risk-based. Hazards and potential risks should be considered at each stage of the food chain, i.e. primary production, transport, processing, storage and distribution, in order ensure that appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place.

Foodborne illnesses are usually infectious or toxic in nature and caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances entering the body through contaminated food or water. Sources of foodborne illness can be products of animal origin, fresh fruits and vegetables or contaminated drinking water.

Bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Escherichia coli are among the most common foodborne pathogens that affect millions of people annually – sometimes with severe and fatal outcomes. Examples of foods involved in outbreaks of salmonellosis are eggs, poultry and other products of animal origin. Foodborne cases with Campylobacter are mainly caused by raw milk, raw or undercooked poultry and drinking water.  Escherichia coli is associated with unpasteurised milk, undercooked meat and fresh fruits and vegetables. However parasites (e.g. tapeworms like Echinococcus spp, or Taenia solium), viruses (e.g. Norovirus infections) and chemical hazards such as veterinary drug residues and chemicals (e.g. dioxins) or environmental pollutants (heavy metals) can also be the source of FBD.

 

This portal will focus on animal production food safety.

 

Ensuring food safety from farm to fork  

To minimise risks of food contamination, action is needed at all stages of the food chain from production at the farm through to human consumption, i.e. ‘from farm to fork’.

The prevention, detection and control of many foodborne hazards of animal origin at the primary production phase is important in order to reduce the burden of disease in the animal and the risk of human illness through foodborne contamination as well as human infections resulting from direct or indirect contact with infected animals

Veterinarians carry out a wide range of activities in animal production systems that contribute to ensuring the production of safe food.

 

 

Examples of pathogens and diseases that originate in animals at the start of the food chain include:

 

One of the most common foodborne bacterial diseases in the world, salmonellosis, is caused by certain Salmonella species, which are normally present in the intestine of animals.
 
Humans can become infected following the consumption of uncooked contaminated food, in particular eggs, poultry, bovine and pork meat.

Reducing the prevalence of nontyphoidal Salmonella species in animals and good hygienic practices in food handling are important strategies to prevent foodborne disease in humans.

The OIE Terrestrial Code details prevention and control measures for Salmonellosis in poultry, bovine and pig production systems:

 

Trichinellosis is caused by eating raw or undercooked meat of animals infected with the larvae of a species of worm called Trichinella. Infection occurs commonly in certain wild carnivorous (meat-eating) animals such as bears, or omnivorous animals such as domestic pigs or wild boar.

 

The importance of trichinellosis lies exclusively in the risk posed to humans which can be a debilitating disease and may result in death. Trichinellosis affects an estimated ten thousand human cases worldwide, per year.

 

Once widespread in domestic pigs, the disease has been controlled in many countries by banning the feeding of raw swill to pigs, and good biosecurity on farms such as vermin control.

The application of meat inspection methods for detecting Trichinella has also proved to be an effective method of ensuring the production of safe meat for human consumption.

Caused by Mycobacterium bovis, this disease of cattle and other animal species can affect humans and cause up to 10% of human tuberculosis cases in some countries.In humans the disease is known as zoonotic tuberculosis.

Foodborne transmission occurs by drinking raw milk or consuming unpasteurised dairy products from infected cattle.

The widespread adoption of pasteurisation of milk to a temperature sufficient to kill the bacteria is key to preventing human transmission, particularly since early detection of infected animals in dairy cattle be challenging.


More information on Bovine tuberculosis.

 

Building efficient food safety systems worldwide

 

In this era of globalisation, food production chains have grown longer and more complex, often involving multiple enterprises or even countries for the manufacturing of one product. International standardisation of food production procedures and safety measures is therefore necessary for the safe trade of food products.

While the Veterinary Services are responsible for controlling pathogens in animals, they need to work with the numerous other stakeholders involved in food systems, such as feed producers, farmers, processors, wholesalers, distributors, importers, exporters and retailers.

In addition to developing international standards for food safety, the OIE  collaborates with other international organisations to ensure that the whole food production chain is appropriately regulated.

 

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