Foodborne illnesses problem remains a significant public health threat that is costly, and yet preventable. These illnesses occur when foods contaminated with germs are consumed. Majority of these foodborne disease outbreaks occur in public setting e.g. restaurants, schools, and communal gatherings.
Challenges facing food safety efforts include:
- Contamination of foods during production and processing practices.
- Food preservation, handling and preparation.
- New and emerging infectious agents e.g. bacteria, toxins, etc.
- Antibiotic resistance due to overuse of bacteria in people and food animals.
In order to improve food safety and protect people from the increasing threat of foodborne illnesses, there is urgent need to collaborate with various stakeholder partners at all levels of government, the food industry, healthcare providers, researchers, among others.
Food safety programmes can be improved through strategies which include, but not limited to:
- Tracking the source of any food that causes an outbreak or public health threat.
- Undertaking comprehensive disease surveillance and investigations.
- Timely response to reported foodborne disease outbreaks or public health threat.
- Ensuring there is competent workforce in the food safety programmes.
- Establishing and implementing an environmental assessment reporting system that identifies underlying environmental causes of disease outbreaks and other public health threats.
- Training and creating awareness on proper handling, cooking and storage of foods
- Closely working with relevant stakeholders to improve surveillance, investigation, and prevention of foodborne illnesses.
By Thuku Njenga: The writer is a public health professional having worked in various public health capacities in Missouri as an epidemiologist, health planner and educator.