World Health Day 2015: Improving Food Safety

March 23, 2015

What do you think when you hear the phrase "food safety?"

You probably think of checking the expiration date on a milk carton or avoiding raw eggs. Most people know general guidelines like these and follow them.

What most of us don't know is the serious impact issues of food and water safety can have on a person's health and, in places with limited resources, the health of a community or entire country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that close to two million people die every year from illnesses caused by contaminated food and drinking water. WHO also reports that more than 200 diseases are caused by food containing bacteria, parasites, viruses or harmful chemicals.

Food-borne illnesses go beyond what we commonly call "food poisoning." To raise awareness, WHO has devoted World Health Day on April 7th to educating people on food safety. As our food chains grow longer, it is everyone's responsibility to practice safer habits, from the farmer to the grocery store employee to the mother cooking dinner.

To do your part, follow WHO's 5 Keys to Safer Food:

1.    Keep clean. Wash your hands, kitchen surfaces and any utensils that come into contact with food before and after cooking. Also, keep pets and pests away from food at gatherings like cookouts.

2.    Separate raw and cooked food. Always keep raw and cooked foods away from one another: in grocery bags, while cooking and in the refrigerator. Use different cutting boards and knives for each, and always refrigerate food in containers.

3.    Cook thoroughly. Animal products like hamburgers should be cooked to a minimum of 158°F. Cook meat until the juices run clear, not pink, and use a thermometer to be sure.

4.    Keep 
food at safe temperatures. Set your refrigerator to 41°F to store perishable and cooked food. When preparing a meal, keep cooked food hot until it is served, and don't let dishes sit at room temperature for more than two hours.  

5.    Use safe water and raw materials. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables that are undamaged and free of mold. Always wash produce before eating it. Also, do not use food beyond its expiration date, even if it looks safe to eat.

To learn more about global food safety and test your knowledge, visit the World Health Organization's webpage for World Health Day.