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Food safety – what should we worry about?
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09:47, December 12, 2007

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Food safety is a key issue to many of us given the number of "food scares" over recent years. But sorting the facts from the fiction can be difficult and many consumers in Asia are confused according to recent research by the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC).

The "International Symposium on Nutrition and Food Safety Communications", held in Bangkok on December 6, was organised by AFIC. AFIC is a not-for-profit organization that works to help close the gap between the science and popular consumer understanding on a variety of food and health topics in the Asian region.

Speaking at the meeting, Dr Peter Ben Embarek, Senior Scientist, Department of Food Safety, Zoonoses and Foodborne Diseases, World Health Organization (WHO), Switzerland said, "Consumers should not have to worry about health risks when they buy food. However if they do worry, then they should at least worry about the most important risks".

"People often worry about aspects of food that don't pose a threat to their health, such as the addition of allowed food additives to processed products. But the number one health threat is the microbiological safety of foods" said Dr Peter Ben Embarek.

"It is estimated that 1.8 to 3.1 Billion people are infected each year by microbiological contamination of the food and water supply." said Dr Peter Ben Embarek. "And many more cases of food poisoning go unreported" he added.
Other major food safety problems in Asia include the intentional contamination of foodstuffs such as the addition of prohibited substances to foods to mask poor quality or to extend the shelf life of foods that may be past their expiry date. According to Dr Peter Ben Embarek, up to half of all cases of illness or death from contaminated foods in some parts of Asia are due to intentional contamination.

Another recent food safety issue is avian flu (bird flu) but there appears to be widespread misinformation about the way in which this condition is contracted. The main risk is in those handling infected birds or eating uncooked chicken products like raw meat or raw eggs. "Properly processed and adequately cooked chicken products do not pose a significant risk to public health" said Dr Peter Ben Embarek.

"Consumers need clear, science based information and advice on food safety risks" said Helen Yu, Executive Director of AFIC. "Our research shows that many people are confused about food safety issues. The media can play an important role in providing the correct information".

For more information on the AFIC research or food safety (including up-to-date information on BSE and bird flu as it relates to the safety of the food supply) log on to the AFIC website at www.afic.org or contact AFIC at [email protected] AFIC also has information and tips on keeping foods safe.

Background notes

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed the following simple tips for keeping foods safe.

Keep clean – make sure your hands are washed before handling food or eating

Separate raw and cooked foods – make sure to keep raw and cooked foods separate. Cooking destroys most bacteria and bugs. If cooked food comes into contact with raw foods (for example, by using the same knives or chopping boards) it can become re-infected.

Cook food thoroughly.

Keep foods at safe temperatures. Make sure hot foods are piping hot and cold foods are kept cold. Keeping foods sitting at room temperatures for long periods of time can give bacteria the opportunity to multiple.
Use safe water and raw materials when cooking.

Asian Food Information Center is a Singapore registered not-for-profit organization. Its mission is to effectively communicate science-base information on food safety, nutrition and health information to media, regulators, food/health professionals, and consumers in the Asia region. For more information please go to www.afic.org.

By People's Daily Online

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