About 420,000 people die each year and at least 600 million people are sickened from contaminated food, according to the World Health Organization. The number of people who are sickened translated to 1 in every 10 people worldwide.
This is the first time that WHO has estimated the impact of preventable food-borne diseases. In its report, the organization, an arm of the United Nations, called on governments and industry to improve inspection and control of foods from the fields and farmyard all the way to the plate. The numbers that WHO produced are a conservative estimate, said Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of WHO's Department of Food Safety, in a news briefing.
Children under age 5 account for 40% of the 600 million cases of food-borne disease worldwide a year and 30% of the 420,000 deaths, WHO said. Children are especially vulnerable to diseases that cause diarrhea, which is often caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, or eggs, fresh produce, and dairy products that are contaminated. Untreated diarrhea can lead to dehydration.
Most food-borne diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and chemicals, with most of them leading to temporary problems such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. But food-borne illnesses can also lead to long-term illnesses including cancer, kidney, or liver failure, brain disorders, epilepsy, and arthritis, WHO reported.
In addition to discussing contaminated food, the report also looked at the way food is traded and sold around the world, Miyagishima said. "If there is one country where food safety is weak and this country exports food to other countries, (it) becomes the weakest chain in the whole food production system."
The highest number of cases and deaths due to food-borne illnesses occur in developing countries, but the United States and Europe also have deadly outbreaks.