WHO report on foodborne disease - News & Features

28 September 2017
 WHO report on foodborne disease

The World Health Organization, Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) recently estimated that 31 foodborne diseases (FBDs) resulted in over 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths worldwide in 2010. That's a lot of establishments that won't be getting a Michelin star and a woeful amount of fatalaties that could have been avoided. 

A new report published last week and led by Sandy Hoffman, highlights the findings of a structured expert elicitation providing globally comparable food source attribution estimates for 11 major FBDs in each of 14 world subregions.

Important information

Until new research or data is found, these estimates provide the best currently available basis with which to assess the link between foodborne illnesses and foods in many parts of the world. Even with wide uncertainty bounds, these results provide important information for public health institutions, policy makers and donors around the world.

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. Diarrhoea is often caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, fresh produce and dairy products contaminated by norovirus, Campylobacter, non-typhoidal Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli.

Other major contributors to the global burden of foodborne diseases are typhoid fever, hepatitis A, Taenia solium (a tapeworm), and aflatoxin (produced by mould on grain that is stored inappropriately).

This research, and the larger project estimating the global burden of foodborne disease of which it is a part, provide a foundation for national and international policy efforts to build stronger risk-based food safety systems, explore targeted intervention options, and initiate research initiative to bridge the identified knowledge gaps.

Sandy Hoffmann is a senior economist with the Food Economics Division. Her research focuses on food safety, valuation of the health benefits of public policies, and integration of economic analysis and risk assessment.

Her research on the attribution of foodborne illness to its food sources and on children's environmental health.