June 7 is a special day dedicated as World Food Safety Day to address one of the basic necessities of life — food. This year the day was marked with the theme “safer food, better health” highlighting the role of safe and nutritional food and how it plays in ensuring human health.
Established in 2018 by the United Nations General Assembly, the day reminds us that the food that we consume must be hygienic and safe or else it can be a threat to our health. In addition, the day was meant to draw attention and mobilise action to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in ten people are affected by foodborne diseases annually across the globe. Unsafe food and water kills an estimated 700,000 children in the South-East Asia Region every year.
With an estimated 600 million cases of food-borne illnesses annually, unsafe food is a threat to human health and economies, disproportionately affecting vulnerable and marginalised people, especially women and children and people affected by conflicts and wars.
Food-borne illnesses are usually infectious or toxic in nature and often invisible to the plain eye, caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances entering the body through contaminated food or water.
New threats to food safety are constantly emerging mainly from the impact of climate change on food production, distribution and consumption. This also poses challenges to the safety of our food by way of biological and environmental contamination of the food chain, new technologies, new and emerging pathogens.
While safe food guarantees good health, unsafe foods are the most critical cause of poor health conditions and diseases such as impaired growth and deficiencies, non-communicable or communicable diseases and mental illness. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, the elderly and the sick.
We all have a role to play, from farm to table, in ensuring that the food we eat is safe and doesn't harm our health. Safe food is essential to promoting consumer health and well-being and ending hunger, two of the 17 main UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Only when food is safe, can we benefit from its nutritional value and the mental and social benefits of sharing a safe meal.
Establishment of a database of imported and domestic food products will help to keep a watch at each stage of food handling while evaluating and developing the health system to monitor diseases transmitted by food and food poisoning.
Another important step is imparting training to those involved in the food processing on the principles and standards of quality and safety of food, honouring food establishments and rewarding the outstanding ones that apply food safety and quality standards.
In addition there should be programmes to develop awareness among producers, workers and consumers on the laws and requirements of safety and quality of food.
In the Sultanate of Oman, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, is primarily involved in the regulation of food through inspection of products available on the local market. The ministry, represented by the Food Safety and Quality Centre, makes continuous efforts to implement the programmes, plans and control systems related to the safety of the quality and suitability of food products.
The ministry, in association with the respective civic authorities, ensures that all food products meet Omani labelling requirements and are accompanied by small, easy to handle samples for possible laboratory verification.
Bilingual labels are permitted, provided one of the languages is Arabic and another preferably English. Arabic language stickers are permitted in lieu of the original Arabic or bilingual label. Dates must be engraved, embossed, printed or stamped directly onto the original label or primary packaging at time of production, using indelible ink.
All food consignments must be accompanied by a health certificate issued by the appropriate government agency in the country of origin that attests to the product’s fitness for human consumption.
Food inspectors from the municipality randomly check food products in the market regardless of origin. In addition to a visual label inspection, a sample may be analysed to verify the accuracy of the label versus actual product content. If a discrepancy is found, the product is removed from the market and destroyed at the supplier’s expense.