World Food Safety Day

World Food Safety Day

Dr. Arvind Mathur, WHO Representative to Timor-Leste/WHO Image

By Dr. Arvind Mathur, WHO Representative to Timor-Leste

Food safety is an important component of public health. Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health. The consumption of unsafe food causes foodborne diseases, posing a greater risk to the vulnerable population, such as infants, children, elderly, the immunocompromised, as well as the malnourished. The WHO South-East Asia Region faces the second-highest health burden compared to other WHO regions due to the consumption of contaminated food. Each year, approximately 150 million illnesses and 175,000 deaths are recorded.

In Timor-Leste, food safety is equally crucial. The focus on food safety in Timor-Leste is closely linked to the national objectives related to nutrition and food security. Timor-Leste imports around sixty percent of its food supply so food control enforcement is critical to ensuring that the country does not receive unsafe and fraudulent food products from importation. Unsafe food is unfit for human consumption. It is therefore important for all of us to acknowledge the importance of food safety in our day-to-day lives.

With the recently achieved accession to WTO, Timor-Leste is urged by the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement to develop food safety measures underpinned by scientific evidence, essential in protecting the consumers from health risks associated with free flow of food products across the countries’ borders. As Timor-Leste anticipates attaining full membership to ASEAN, it is imperative to ready itself for active engagement in the Priority Areas of Cooperation outlined by ASEAN. This involvement encompasses ensuring food safety as one among the four clusters in the ASEAN Health Development Agenda.

In this context, I am pleased to note that Timor Leste is intensifying actions to strengthen the regulatory framework on food labelling, food quality and import/export controls. These efforts are indicative of the government commitment for consumer protection from unsafe food and also fraudulent advertising. The self-assessment on the food control system undertaken by the Ministry of Health with support from WHO Timor Leste and in collaboration with other ministries and food safety authorities, captures the opportunities and challenges within the existing legal and institutional framework for food control in the country. It highlights the key investments required to effectively implement a risk-based approach for ensuring food safety from farm to fork. One of the most important recommended investments is the development of an overarching National Food Law mandating food safety assurance and food control system, from production to consumption, aligned with global standards established by Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Achieving food safety necessitates collaboration across various sectors. The health sector is promoting hygiene and environmental sanitation to prevent foodborne illnesses that can hinder nutritional intake. To enhance domestic primary production, the agricultural sector must enforce Codex food standards and other international best practices to ensure the safety and quality of agricultural products. The trade sector can assist food businesses, especially the less developed ones, in producing safe, high-quality food that meets Codex standards, thereby improving market access whereas the social sector should empower consumers to adopt a culture of food safety by investing in essential infrastructure like water, sanitation, and energy.

A national food law with accompanying technical regulations on food labelling, food quality and import/export controls, can provide the framework within which to enhance coordination among these different stakeholders.

As we commemorate the World Food Safety Day, our collective vision remains that everyone in Timor-Leste consumes healthy, nutritious, and safe food. As Timor Leste prioritises multisectoral actions for nutrition and food security, it is crucial for us ensure that our efforts to streamline food safety also go hand-in-hand.

The theme for WFSD this year is “prepare for the unexpected”. Food safety is everyone’s business.  With a robust national food control system, coupled with enhanced community awareness, we can enhance our readiness to address any food safety incidents effectively. Timor-Leste, being a member of the FAO/WHO International Food Safety Authority Network (INFOSAN), can also benefit significantly from this network by facilitating rapid information exchange during global food safety crises. Utilizing the network to its full potential can greatly assist Timor Lese in implementing risk management strategies to reduce foodborne illnesses and protect lives.

On this occasion, I call upon the people of Timor Leste, to understand the importance of food safety within their settings – at home, at schools, and when purchasing foods from market. As consumers it is important that all of us, practice safe food handling at home and apply The Five Keys to Safer Food i.e., keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures and use safe water and raw materials when preparing meals at home. It is also important we understand how to report and respond to food safety incidents, if faced with one.

Food safety incidents impact health, livelihoods, and businesses. Let’s be ready to minimise the impact: Plan, prepare, act!



Source: WHO


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