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Food safety


    Access to enough safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health. Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances can cause more than 200 different diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Around the world, an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people – fall ill after eating contaminated food each year, resulting in 420 000 deaths and the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs).

    Food safety, nutrition and food security are closely linked. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick. In addition to contributing to food and nutrition security, a safe food supply also supports national economies, trade and tourism, stimulating sustainable development. The globalization of food trade, a growing world population, climate change and rapidly changing food systems have an impact on the safety of food. WHO aims to enhance the capacity to prevent, detect and respond to public health threats associated with unsafe food at the global and country levels.



    Foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems and harming national economies, tourism and trade. The burden of foodborne diseases to public health and to economies has often been underestimated due to underreporting and difficulty to establish causal relationships between food contamination and resulting illness or death. Children under 5 years of age carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, with 125 000 deaths every year.

    The consumption and production of safe food have immediate and long-term benefits for people, the planet and the economy. Safe food is essential to human health and well-being, only food that is safe can be traded. Safe food allows for the uptake of nutrients and promotes long-term human development. When food is not safe, humans cannot develop, and the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved.

    The 2019 World Bank report on the economic burden of the foodborne diseases indicated that US$ 110 billion is lost each year in productivity and medical expenses resulting from unsafe food in low- and middle-income countries. Unsafe or contaminated food leads to trade rejections, economic losses and food loss and waste, while safe food production improves economic opportunities by enabling market access and productivity.


    WHO response

    WHO calls for the transformation of food systems to make food safe, healthy and sustainably produced for all the world population.

    WHO provides scientific advice and research to help develop international standards for food safety through the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/WHO Codex Alimentarius.

    WHO provides global leadership in facilitating investment and coordinated evidence-based action across multiple sectors. This supports Member States in building strong, sustainable and resilient national food control systems with a balance of responsibilities between the different stakeholders, including consumers. It does so through the implementation of WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety (2022–2030); monitoring the global burden of foodborne diseases and supporting countries in burden estimates; supporting stronger national food control systems by comprehensive assessments through the FAO/WHO food control system assessment tool; and helping implement adequate infrastructure to respond to food safety emergencies through the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN).

    WHO promotes safe food handling through the WHO Five keys to safer food and advocates for priorities and policies that move food safety forward globally, by convening with partners and the public through World Food Safety Day and global Food Safety Community of Practice.

    Latest publications

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    Red and processed meat in the context of health and the environment: many shades of red and green: information brief

    There is growing international consensus that food systems transformation is important to address the challenges of malnutrition in all its forms, the...

    Taking action to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing: a child rights-based approach

    This joint UNICEF and WHO publication aims to guide governments and partners through the steps to introduce policies to protect children from the harmful...

    Policies to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing: WHO guideline

    Children continue to be exposed to powerful food marketing, which predominantly promotes foods high in saturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids, free sugars...

    Nine things to know about food safety aspects of cell-based food

    In April 2023, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the publication...


    All →
    SOFI 2023 report pub cover

    This report is the annual global monitoring report documenting progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 targets 2.1 and 2.2. This year’s...

    NFS newsltter April 2023 publication cover

    Before the Easter break, we would like to share with you our Key Achievements 2022 brochure and give you a quick update on what has happened in the first...

    NFS achievements 2022 publication cover

    WHO leadership, norm setting, policy guidance and monitoring has brought another good year of progress towards universal access to safe and sufficient...

    NFS newsletter Oct 2022 publicatin cover

    The present issue of the quarterly NFS newsletter features the “summer cocktail” of our activities in the following key areas: Covid-19 and...

    Assessment tool

    Food control system assessment tool: dimension D: Science / Knowledge base and continuous improvement

    Dimension D looks at the necessary features for the system to build its scientific soundness and to keep abreast of new scientific developments and innovations,...

    Food control system assessment tool: dimension C: interactions with stakeholders

    Dimension C identifies the interactions that must take place for the system to regularly adjust to national and international stakeholders’ evolving...

    Food control system assessment tool: dimension B: control functions

    Dimension B focuses on the processes and the outputs of the national food control system. It revolves around the control functions that must be exercised...

    Food control system assessment tool: dimension A: inputs and resources 

    Dimension A aims at mapping the fundamental elements necessary for the system to operate. These range from legal and policy instruments to financial assets,...

    Food control system assessment tool: introduction and glossary

    National food control system plays a pivotal role in protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair practices in food trade. When we are able...