Why Food Safety Standards Matter — Insights from EatSafe
Food safety is an integral aspect of the global food system, and it has a crucial role in ensuring that people have access to safe, nutritious and sustainable food. The theme of this year’s World Food Safety Day, “Food Standards Save Lives,” highlights the importance of food safety standards in improving nutrition outcomes, increasing food security and promoting public health within the food system. A focus on food safety and its standards is essential to strengthening the resilience of people and food systems and achieving food security.
The burden of unsafe food
Unsafe food causes serious health problems, threatens and takes lives and undermines food security and nutrition. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) Report, each year 420,000 people die, and 1 in 10 falls ill from foodborne disease (FBD), which is a similar impact to that of malaria and HIV/AIDS. Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are particularly vulnerable to illness and death due to foodborne illnesses. At 125,000 deaths annually, children also face an inequitable burden of FBD. In addition, practices that lead to food becoming unsafe also cause and accelerate food loss, reducing the availability of food.
This is where food safety standards come in. By providing clear criteria and oversight for food production, processing, storage and distribution, standards can provide foundational support to ensure that food products are safe and of good quality. Standards also promote consistency and transparency in food safety practices, reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and build trust among consumers in the food system.
The nexus for food safety and standards in traditional markets
Feed the Future programs like Evidence and Action towards Safe, Nutritious Food (EatSafe) have exemplified the importance of food safety standards through localized interventions in Nigeria and Ethiopia in traditional markets. For example, the introduction of informal and voluntary food safety standards and guidelines for vendors can be used to stimulate the adoption of best practices. Through the Abinci Fes-Fes or “Clean, Fresh Food” (one of EatSafe’s interventions), vendors are trained on best food safety practices and apply those behaviors at their stalls, alongside visual cues like branded aprons and surface coverings. Consumers are educated on the meaning of the Abinci Fes-Fes brand to create demand for food sold by vendors who have committed to adopting food safety standards:
“The moment you see an Abinci Fes-Fes vendor, you will know that this one has been trained and that he is clean, so it will save you time and you can purchase whatever you want to purchase, it will take you 5 minutes instead of 20 minutes,” said a Nigerian consumer.
Why focus on food safety in traditional markets? These environments are the main source of diverse and nutritious food for people in LMICs and serve as community hubs, creating social value and providing livelihoods for many. Importantly, for food safety, traditional markets present a critical control point for foodborne disease. Efforts to improve food safety can quickly and efficiently reach large numbers of people. Food standards can assist the sustainability of these food safety efforts, normalizing and codifying best practices, and ensuring that they are recognized and, hopefully, rewarded.
Prioritizing standards for sustainable and safe food systems
Food safety is an integral part of food systems and it can support their sustainability and resilience in providing healthier diets for all. Food safety standards, carefully designed and utilized, can provide broad support — in the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, the reduction of food loss and waste and the support of the long-term health of ecosystems and agricultural communities — for the proper functioning of the food systems that we all rely on.
As we celebrate World Food Safety Day, we urge policymakers, businesses and consumers to prioritize food safety and food safety standards. By working together, we can ensure that everyone has access to safe, nutritious and sustainable food. Because if it’s not safe, it’s not food.
For more information, visit EatSafe’s activity page.
This blog was made possible through support provided by Feed The Future through USAID, under the terms of Agreement #7200AA19CA00010. The opinions expressed herein are those of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the U.S. government.