Every year 420 000 people die, while 600 million fall ill around the world as a result of consuming unsafe food, according to the UN’s World Health Organization.
However, if the necessary awareness about the dangers of unsafe food could be raised, these deaths could be prevented.
To help raise this awareness, the UN adopted a resolution in 2018 to declare 7 June every year as World Food Safety Day.
According to Prof Elna Buys, head of the Department of Consumer and Food Science at the University of Pretoria, raising awareness about food safety was critical.
“Not only does it have a huge impact on an economy, but it also necessary to inform consumers that they have a right to safe food, whether they bought it from a supermarket, a small retailer, a market, or a food truck.”
She said South Africa’s food industry and national and provincial government structures were all well aware of the need to ensure the safety of food and there were certain regulations and systems in place.
“However, there is no overarching system in place to link all these different levels [of governance]. That is why it took so long before the source of the recent listeriosis outbreak was detected. This delay had a serious impact on the number of people who became ill. There was no system in place that enabled the different levels [of governance] to communicate with each other and thereby solve the problem quickly.”
This was one of the most crucial issues to be addressed with regard to food safety in South Africa, she said and suggested that developing a database of food safety incidences at government level would help to provide timely information to farmers, consumers, and small traders.