Food Safety is a Key Ingredient for Women’s Healthy Diets
This post is written by Yaritza Rodriguez, project officer, USAID Advancing Nutrition.
The United Nations Food Systems Summit defines a healthy diet as a combination of foods that are health-promoting and disease-preventing. However, when food is unsafe or contaminated, we can expect the opposite effect. Unsafe foods that harbor harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances are responsible for more than 200 different diseases and 420,000 deaths every year globally. Although foodborne illnesses disproportionately burden low-income populations, when people avoid fresh foods for fear of poisoning or illness, consumption of nutritious foods decreases for everyone. Addressing food safety issues is key to improving people’s health, but especially that of women.
Foodborne illnesses and contaminated foods are more likely to negatively impact women, adding to the inequalities that already affect their nutrition. On every continent, women have less access than men to the safe, nutritious foods that make up a healthy diet, with the largest disparities found in Latin America. USAID Chief Nutritionist Shawn Baker recently explained, “A lot of the most nutritious foods, particularly for women and children, are more perishable foods which are much more subject to food safety risks,” pointing to the close connection between food safety and gender equality in nutrition.
A gender analysis of any program or intervention aimed at enhancing food safety helps ensure that the unique dietary needs of men and women are met. Recognizing that gender equality is fundamental to good nutrition for everyone, but particularly women and children who may have less access to healthy and safe diets, USAID Advancing Nutrition, the agency’s flagship multisectoral nutrition project, developed a gender training package to help design, implement, monitor and evaluate nutrition programs through a gender lens. The project is also helping USAID develop guidance to help improve food processing to ensure safe and nutritious diets year round.
Food safety is everyone’s business and requires collective action at various levels, but given the disproportionate impacts of unsafe food on women’s diets, we must ensure that our efforts to improve food safety adequately support healthy diets for women.