An estimated 600 million people, or nearly one in 10 of the global population, is sickened by contaminated food every year, according to conservative estimates from the World Health Organization. Additionally, 420,000 people die each year from foodborne diseases, including 125, 000 children under the age of five.
In a new report on the global burden of foodborne illnesses, the World Health Organization measured the impact of 31 “agents” of foodborne diseases — bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and chemicals — and found that the most frequent causes of illness were from diarrheal disease agents like norovirus and Campylobacter. Other major causes of foodborne deaths were Salmonella Typhi, Taenia solium, hepatitis A virus, and aflatoxin. The last of these, aflatoxin, was linked to more than 10,000 cases of liver cancer in the Western Pacific.
Most foodborne illnesses cause only temporary symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but can also lead to long-term illnesses like cancer, kidney or liver failure, and brain and neural disorders. Children, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune system face the highest risk. Children who do survive certain foodborne illnesses may suffer from physical or mental impairment.
Africa was estimated to have the highest burden of foodborne diseases by population, affecting an estimated 91 million per year, and killing 137,000 people, followed by Southeast Asia, which reported more than 150 million cases and 175,000 deaths.
In closing, the World Health Organization cautioned that there exists a serious global threat to public health caused by these preventable diseases, and that the food industry and individuals share responsibility to make food safe. “There remains a significant need for education and training on the prevention of foodborne diseases among food producers, suppliers, handlers and the general public,” WHO said.