According to World Health Organization estimates, 600 million people per year fall ill and 420 000 die after eating contaminated food. This adds up to the loss of 33 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (a Disability-Adjusted Life Year can be considered as one year lost of “healthy life”, measuring the gap between current health status and an ideal health situation). Contamination here refers to unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, which are said to cause more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers (13).
Neglected tropical diseases, now called poverty-related diseases, are good examples of the interactions between malnutrition and foodborne- and infectious diseases. These diseases can lead to diarrhoea, anaemia, and nutrient deprivation and are common in poor communities lacking clean water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical treatment. When chronically infected, many of these diseases can cause stunting as well as cognitive impairment (14). A classic example that bridges the field of food safety and infectious diseases is the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium. Infection takes place as a result of consumption of parasitic cysts in undercooked pork meat. The worm was declared the number one food-borne parasite in 2014 (15).
Moreover, given that agri-business is a global chain of activities, from production, processing, transportation to consumption, bacterial contaminations and naturally occurring toxins e.g. mycotoxins, as well as the use of certain pesticides or chemicals, can affect consumers globally. The recent scandal in Europe concerning eggs contaminated with fipronil demonstrates this nicely. The insecticide fipronil, not authorised for use in animals farmed for human consumption purposes, was combined with a plant-based disinfectant and bottled up by a company in Belgium. Poultry farmers in the Netherlands and in Germany then used this mixture in their henhouses. Eggs contaminated with fipronil have since reached cafés, supermarkets and the like in twelve European countries (16).
To alleviate the risks from contamination with microorganisms and toxins, simple hygienic measures or coarse sorting are most efficient. However, in particular at the level of small-scale farmers this would require for more appropriate information to be disseminated about what constitutes good hygenic and storage measures. Likewise, careful controls and regulations for marketed foods as well as coordination between governments and producers are required to ensure global food safety.