Safer food, better health and a brighter future

From farm to fork, how safe is your food? On World Food Safety Day, ISO is taking a significant step on the path to ensuring that access to safer, nutritious food benefits all – people and planet.

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By Ann Brady
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Safer food, better health. This is the theme of World Food Safety Day and it is obvious, is it not, that access to safe food is vital for life and health. The challenge in today’s world is how to achieve this. Global food systems, already under pressure before the pandemic, are now subject to supply chain bottlenecks, the impacts of accelerating climate change and fluctuating geopolitical tensions.    

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the theme, “safer food, better health”, highlights the importance of safe, nutritional food in ensuring human health and well-being. And we all have a part to play in ensuring we achieve this. Whether we grow, process, transport, store, sell, buy, prepare or serve food, food safety is in all our hands. 

The need to tackle the challenge is pressing. The WHO says unsafe food causes 600 million cases of foodborne diseases worldwide and 420 000 deaths; and some 30 % of foodborne deaths occur among children under five years of age. These figures are likely to be an underestimation.

Exciting initiatives 

The urgent need to transform food systems has led to exciting initiatives such as the Food Action Alliance, a collaborative effort by global leaders “to produce food in a way that is efficient, inclusive and accessible to all”. Another such initiative, 100 Million Farmers, puts the emphasis on supporting local solutions that “incentivize farmers and empower consumers to place climate, nature and resilience at the core of the food economy.” 

This is all underscored by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger: “A profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish the more than 690 million people who are hungry today – and the additional two billion people the world will have by 2050. Increasing agricultural productivity and sustainable food production are crucial to help alleviate the perils of hunger.”

Our highly interconnected world means we are all becoming increasingly aware of the impact food production is having on the environment and the concomitant risks to our health of foodborne diseases, toxins and other hazards. Food products are constantly moving from country to country in ever more complex supply chains, making them vulnerable to contamination and bad practices. Building efficiency and greater resilience into food systems is one way to reduce these risks and ensure systems are prepared to meet future food supply issues. 

Unsafe food causes 600 million cases of foodborne diseases worldwide.

Green ants anyone? 

Meanwhile, the pace of technology and innovation continues to accelerate with a knock-on effect on the way people purchase food and the way food businesses operate. The new technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are opening up new opportunities for feeding the world as well as introducing new perspectives on what constitutes nutritional food. Edible insects, for instance, are not new but contestants on the popular TV show MasterChef Australia 2022, tasked with highlighting locally sourced ingredients, raised royal eyebrows (specifically those of HRH The Prince of Wales) when they served green ants on canapés to VIP guests in a cooking challenge in Darwin. 

Prince Charles may have looked slightly aghast but, as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says, new foods such as edible insects (which can be a good source of protein, fibre, fatty acids and micronutrients), or new technologies like artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, may hold exciting future promises and opportunities. 

The FAO is quick to point out that now is the time to start preparing for any potential safety concerns. In a recent report, FAO Chief Scientist Ismahane Elouafi said: “We are in an era where technological and scientific innovations are revolutionizing the agrifood sector, including the food safety arena. It is important for countries to keep pace with these advances, particularly in a critical area like food safety.”

Maintaining standards 

Standards promote the quality and safety of food, as well as the efficiency of the food supply chain from farm to fork, and help prevent diseases, detect bacteria and manage risk. ISO, for its part, plays a significant role. ISO 22000 on food safety management systems, for instance, helps all types of food producers manage the safety of their products and the well-being of their consumers, providing a layer of reassurance within the global food supply chain, helping products cross borders and bringing people food they can trust. 

To celebrate World Food Safety Day, the revised ISO 22003 on food safety management systems (part 1 and part 2) is now published, which will further benefit the global community. As Kylie Sheehan, General Manager Operations at the joint Australia-New Zealand accreditation body (JAS-ANZ) and Co-Convenor of the working group that revised ISO 22003, says: “We now have two standards which support industry organizations to achieve food safety certification. It also provides regulators and consumers with the confidence that certification bodies undertaking food safety certification meet minimum benchmarked requirements that provide confidence in the food safety outcomes achieved.”

Torben Lyster-Clasen, Chair of the technical committee that developed the standards, and an expert on ISO 22000 and ISO 22003, reinforces the point, highlighting what collaboration can achieve. “More than one hundred experts from industry, food safety certification schemes, certification bodies and accreditation bodies worked collaboratively to develop these two new standards. The result is a major step forward for ISO in the harmonization of its toolbox for food safety conformity assessment.”

He goes on to say that food businesses, their customers, consumers, scheme owners, food safety auditors and those engaged in recognizing food safety schemes in the private sector and as regulators will definitely benefit.”

Informed decisions 

“Food safety involves everybody in the food chain.” So said Mike Johanns, US Secretary of Agriculture (2005-2009) and son of a dairy farmer, and his words have even more resonance today. The Codex Alimentarius states that food safety is everyone’s business. And working through its network of national members, ISO standards bring together the foremost expertise and best practices on food safety in the world. 

In these ever-changing, uncertain times, International Standards such as ISO 22003 help food safety stakeholders adapt to this fluctuating and fragmented landscape. They enable policy makers to be better prepared both to tackle emerging opportunities and challenges, and help ensure that consumers and businesses alike can make informed decisions in making food healthier and more sustainable for everyone.

The lesson is, if we work together, we can all help achieve safer food for better health, which will yield benefits for all. 

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