Food safety refers to the practices used to ensure food is safe to eat; from preparation and distribution to storage and beyond. It concerns all the steps involved in preventing food-borne illnesses.
Following proper food hygiene procedures is just as critical at home as it is in a restaurant, factory or retail establishment. It’s all about reducing the risk of food poisoning as much as possible. As WHO* puts it: “Unsafe food poses global health threats, endangering everyone”.
We’ve put together a list of key food safety facts which highlights the importance of adhering to good food hygiene principles and routines.
1. Every year, approximately 1 in 10 people fall ill due to eating contaminated food
Food-borne illnesses can affect anyone who eats contaminated food. However, younger people, pregnant women, the elderly and those with underlying diseases are more likely to be affected.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 600 million people become ill after eating contaminated food every year*.
2. Unsafe food presents an economic & social burden
The burden of unsafe food is considerable. Food-borne illnesses result in productivity losses and treatment costs, negatively affecting public health and welfare as well as economies, tourism and trade.
According to the Food Standards Agency, it is estimated that the burden of food-borne illnesses in the UK is approximately £9bn per year**.
3. Contaminated food doesn’t necessarily look bad
Food may become contaminated by biological (bacteria, viruses and mould), physical and chemical hazards.
Pathogens, i.e. food-poisoning bacteria, may be present in food without you knowing it. In fact, pathogens don’t have an affect on the taste, smell or appearance of food.
Did you know? High-risk foods, i.e. ready-to-eat foods that support the multiplication of pathogens, include cooked meat and poultry, cooked rice, milk, eggs, and more.
4. Common causes of food-borne illnesses include improper cooling & infected food handlers
There are many considerations to make when it comes to food safety. Among the top causes for causing food-borne illnesses are: contaminated ingredients or raw foods, inadequate reheating, cross-contamination and advance preparation***.
It is in everyone’s best interest to observe food safety and hygiene practices to ensure food is safe to eat.
5. Food businesses have a responsibility to help prevent food contamination
Food may become contaminated at any production stage. Food businesses have a responsibility and legal obligation to ensure that the food they produce/handle/sell is safe for consumers to eat.
There are several laws on how businesses must manage food safety; for example:
- You must have food safety management procedures in place
- You must provide accurate allergen information
- You must ensure that the food is presented/labelled/advertised in a way that is not misleading
Local authorities are tasked with enforcing food hygiene laws and protecting the public.
The main defence under food safety legislation is due diligence; i.e. food business operators must show evidence of taking all reasonable precautions to avoid committing an offence.
If you own a food business and are unsure how to manage food safety, you can enlist the help of a food safety consultancy.
There are many food safety facts and food hygiene statistics worth knowing – these are just a few key ones. If you want to learn more about the subject, check out our food safety articles, which cover anything from how to reduce the risk of a listeria outbreak to understanding the importance of a food safety management system.
*Food Safety, World Health Organisation, Accessed July 2021
**Research Report: The Burden of Foodborne Disease in the UK 2018, Food Standards Agency, Accessed July 2021
***Food Safety, Sanitation, and Personal Hygiene, Chapter 4, The BC Cook Articulation Committee, Accessed July 2021