WHO Says Foodborne Illnesses on the RiseNov 21, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Food poisoning causes about 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and up to 5,000 deaths annually, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Now, Reuters, is reporting that the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that foodborne illnesses are increasing and striking rich and poor countries alike. The problem of foodborne illness was recently discussed at a WHO "experts meeting", Reuters said.
The WHO, the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system, said that eradication of food-borne diseases “requires a concerted effort on the part of the three principal partners, namely governments, the food industry, and consumers.” Meanwhile, WHO Director of food safety, Jorgen Schlundt, cited China’s problems with melamine, and last summer's massive salmonella outbreak in the U.S., when discussing the need for more research into the illnesses and deaths associated with tainted foods, Reuters said.
The China melamine contamination is responsible for about 54,000 illnesses and no less than four deaths - and possibly as many as eight - linked to tainted formula. The U.S. salmonella outbreak that was ultimately linked to Mexican peppers sickened nearly 1,500 people.
According to Reuters, David Heymann, WHO assistant director-general for health, security, and the environment, noted that all countries can be affected. "Foodborne diseases occur on every continent and in every country, really. We never know where these events will happen," Heymann said.
Schlundt said that about one-third of “new infectious diseases originate in bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemicals, and toxins introduced along food production chains”; Reuters reported. "There are some indications that the foodborne disease burden is increasing. But there is not very good data, it is difficult to say exactly what is happening." Reuters noted that WHO said over two million children worldwide die annually from so-called “diarrheal illnesses.”
Reuters reported that Schlundt also urged for monitoring of the entire food chain, citing the emerging so-called “farm to fork” approach . "If you want to deal with food safety you have to go from the 'farm to the fork'. The notion that you can deal with it at the end of the food chain is clearly wrong," Schlundt said. He noted that a lack of collaboration, organization, or cooperation is problematic. For example, Schlundt pointed out that in China, there are 16 different authorities involved in some way in dealing with the melamine crisis, Reuters said.
Another problem, according to Julie Ingelfinger, a Harvard Medical School professor and pediatric nephrologist, is that it is not widely known that foodborne illnesses can have serious and sometimes lasting effects. According to Reuters, Ingelfinger pointed to E. coli specifically, noting that HUS (hemolytic-uremic syndrome) is a long-term consequence of E. coli that is known to cause pediatric kidney failure. "Research into the long-term effects of foodborne disease is increasingly important because it is unquantified and goes on for decades," Ingelfinger said.