WHO estimates 420,000 deaths due to foodborne illness annually

1 in 10 people worldwide annually and 420,000 deaths (125,000 of whom are kids). That’s a lot.

WHO released these numbers it in a report published in PLOS Medicine today.who-logo1

Almost one third (30%) of all deaths from foodborne diseases are in children under the age of 5 years, despite the fact that they make up only 9% of the global population. This is among the findings of WHO’s Estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases – the most comprehensive report to date on the impact of contaminated food on health and wellbeing.

The report, which estimates the burden of foodborne diseases caused by 31 agents – bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals – states that each year as many as 600 million, or almost 1 in 10 people in the world, fall ill after consuming contaminated food. Of these, 420 000 people die, including 125 000 children under the age of 5 years.

“Until now, estimates of foodborne diseases were vague and imprecise. This concealed the true human costs of contaminated food. This report sets the record straight,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “Knowing which foodborne pathogens are causing the biggest problems in which parts of the world can generate targeted action by the public, governments, and the food industry.”

While the burden of foodborne diseases is a public health concern globally, the WHO African and South-East Asia Regions have the highest incidence and highest death rates, including among children under the age of 5 years.

“These estimates are the result of a decade of work, including input from more than 100 experts from around the world. They are conservative, and more needs to be done to improve the availability of data on the burden of foodborne diseases. But based on what we know now, it is apparent that the global burden of foodborne diseases is considerable, affecting people all over the world – particularly children under 5 years of age and people in low-income areas,” says Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of WHO’s Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses.

Diarrhoeal diseases are responsible for more than half of the global burden of foodborne diseases, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year. Children are at particular risk of foodborne diarrhoeal diseases, with 220 million falling ill and 96 000 dying every year.




Junior hockey more entertaining; Canadians battle barf at world championships

While the hockey world (that’s ice hockey) was focused on the New York Rangers beating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 outdoors at the annual Winter Classic this afternoon (along with some linguistic troubles for caustic commentator Mike Milbury), the junior world championships taking place in Canada is home to real hockey action.

And some barfing.

The favored Canadian juniors have been stricken with the flu – whatever that means – as the bug is threatening to spread through the Canadian dressing room in advance of Tuesday’s world junior semi-final against either Russia or the Czech Republic.

Player Brendan Gallagher said, “You can’t underestimate that stuff, because if you get the flu, it can really hurt your game, so you gotta be real careful. The doctors are doing a good job. We all got our own hand sanitizers. We’re trying to keep it under control. Obviously, it’s a pretty important thing for us to be aware of. You gotta wash your hands.”

So, in addition to all the basic facts of hockey life that they had drummed into them Monday, that is the mantra going forward: Wash those hands.

Safest food in the world: American cattlemen’s edition

It’s been awhile, but Dr. Sam Ives, director of veterinary services and associate director of research at Cactus Feeders, Ltd., testified today on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) at a U.S. House Agriculture Committee Hearing on food safety that the U.S. has the safest food in the world.

“There is no question that the United States has the safest food supply in the world and other countries consider the U.S. the ‘gold standard.’  Cattle producers support the establishment of realistic food safety objectives designed to protect public health to the maximum extent possible.

“…The U.S. has the safest food supply in the world, which is an achievement worth noting.  Science is a critical component of the beef industry and through science-based improvements in animal genetics, management practices, nutrition and health, beef production per cow has increased from 400 pounds of beef in the mid 1960s to 585 pounds of beef in 2005. … The beef industry will continue to dedicate time and resources to ensure the safety of beef.”

But that doesn’t mean the U.S. has the safest food supply in the world. For a group so dedicated to science, perhaps they could provide some science to substantiate the claim?

Safest meat in the world — especially in pot pies

While introducing a Senate motion to block the movement of older Canadian cattle into the U.S., U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) couldn’t help himself and played the "safest meat in the world" card.

"American beef is the safest in the world, but increased importation of higher risk Canadian beef and cattle would undermine the confidence of our trading partners and cause further damage to our domestic beef industry."

Observers said it was doubtful the motion would pass.

U.S. has safest meat in the world; outbreaks increase

I don’t know much about farm bills and state versus federal inspection.

But claims that,

"U.S. consumers enjoy the safest meat and poultry products in the world,"

especially as E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks in the U.S. appear on the rise and more sick people are identified in Wisconsin, seems to be the height of hubris.

But that’s what Ron de Yong, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture, wrote in the Montana Billings Gazette this morning.

An outdated federal law prohibits state-inspected plants from selling products across state lines despite a provision in the law that requires these plants to have safety standards that equal or exceed those of USDA-inspected facilities. …

There are many reasons to abolish the 1967 prohibition on interstate shipments of state-inspected meat. … Enabling interstate sales of state-inspected meat and poultry will provide economic fairness and open markets. New marketing opportunities not only will benefit producers, processors and small businesses, but also will give consumers more choices at the supermarket. This change is common sense and it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe. But spouting off about the safest anything in the world without the comparative data to back up such claims seems like a bad way to sell an idea.

“Safest meat products of any country in the world”

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., apparently ignored my plea for a moratorium on the "we have the safest food in the world" comments unless some data was provided.

Go figure.

The Billings Gazette cited Rehberg as saying Wednesday that U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab has assured him that the Bush administration will not push a free-trade agreement with South Korea until the country opens its market to U.S. beef.

Rehberg said the country was using "false arguments" to keep its markets closed.

"We have the safest meat products of any country in the world."

Bland blanket statements serve only to amplify rather than mollify consumer concerns.

China GM: Our food is the safest in the world

Those Chinese learn fast.

No sooner had I posted about a USDA official proclaiming that the U.S. had the safest meat supply in the world as 25 were barfing from E. coli O157:H7, then China jumped into the fray, borrowing a page from the US, Canadian, British and Kiwi (and lots of other countries) playbook.

Zhong Yuhua, the general manager, Fusheng Food Co., was quoted as telling reporters who were invited on a government-organized tour of three food exporters in Shandong province, southeast of Beijing that,

"I am very confident in saying our food is excellent and the safest in the world."

The story says that Fusheng is part of a Chinese food industry elite of export-oriented companies that, often with foreign help, have improved quality to meet import standards in Japan, the United States and elsewhere.

I don’t believe any of youse. How about a moratorium on, "We have the safest food in the world," until someone publishes some meaningful comparative data in a peer reviewed journal. Or at least back the statement up with some data. Anything. Bland blanket statements serve only to amplify rather than mollify consumer concerns.

U.S. official says meat supply safest in world; 25 react by barfing

Dr. Richard Raymond, the Agriculture Department’s undersecretary of food
Safety, said on CBS’s ""The Early Show” this morning that,

"I think the American meat supply is the safest in the world. A recall like this does  show that we are on the job, we are doing our inspections, our investigation, and we respond when we find problems to make sure that  supply is safe.”

Raymond joins the Brits, Canadians and Kiwis, who all apparently have the safest food supply in the world.

They can’t all be right.

Meanwhile, an Associated Press story notes cited a Topps official as saying over the weekend that the company has now augmented its procedures with microbiologists and food-safety experts.

I’m sure all this is a tremendous relief to the at least 25 individuals who have been barfing with E. coli O157:H7 in eight states.

I thought it was football?

The bi-annual congress of the South African Association for Food Science and Technology in Durban was told on Wednesday that many of South Africa’s food manufacturers are failing to meet basic hygiene standards with the management often scrambling to ensure a spotless factory only when standard certification inspections are imminent.

And with the 2010 soccer World Cup just around the corner, it is high time that local food producers improved food safety levels in their factories to avert possible food poisoning disasters.

Rolf Uys, Manager of AIB International, was cited as saying that 45 percent of the factories his company had inspected over the past year had not met basic international food safety requirements, and 70 percent had less than desirable levels of food safety standards, adding,

"Some of the things I have seen this year were live insect activity in seven out of 10 silos inspected; cat droppings in a warehouse; urine in a fruit juice container; slime and psocids (tiny insects ) in water feed; the same buckets used for waste product and cleaning; and rodents blissfully living in warehouse wall panels.

"Factories are being cleaned once every three years just in time for the audit inspection. There is good preparation for the audit, but the attention is not on an entrenched food safety programme. … There is an attitude in the factory of ‘we’ll clean when we feel like it because the legislation is only providing a guideline’, and of ‘let’s see what we can get away with.’ A lot of factories are saying ‘we’ll just take our chances’ and dish out vouchers to customers who complain, but this is not working any more."

If this is what the auditors are willing to say publicly, wonder what they really find?