The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a report that estimated the number of deaths per year from food poisoning and diseases caused by contaminated food.
There are few people that are able to go through life without feeling the harmful symptoms of food poisoning. Those symptoms can include, but are not limited to: nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain with cramping, and fever.
It is because so many people know the sting of having eaten the wrong thing that it’s so easy to believe the new estimate report released by WHO. The estimates reported by the organization claim that contaminated food causes roughly 550 million people throughout the world to show symptoms of the poisoning every year. To put that in perspective, according to Google Public Data, there are only approximately 318 million people living in the United States.
Whereas food poisoning is common, it’s difficult to consider it a serious illness. Some people even go on with their day as normal if it’s a mild case.
However, WHO notes in their report that of the millions of people who get sick from contaminated food, there are roughly 420,000 people every year that die from food poisoning.
“This is the first report to shed light on the size of this problem, which we now know to be a leading cause of preventable illness and deaths worldwide, and for which data has been sorely lacking,” Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of WHO’s Department of Food Safety, wrote in an article he published on the WHO website.
Poisoning is not the only effect of contaminated food. Eating bad food can expose a person to many different bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and even chemicals. Any of those can cause something more long term than the symptoms associated with food poisoning.
“There is much less awareness of the grave, longer-term consequences of foodborne diseases, such as cancer, kidney or liver failure and brain and neural disorders,” Dr. Miyagishima wrote.
If you factor in diseases caused by contaminated food that take longer to diagnose, an additional 230,000 deaths are added to the original figure.
In children under the age of five, food poisoning is even more potent. In fact, over 30 percent of contaminated food-related deaths are children.
Due to the fact that their immune systems are still developing and are weaker than their adult counterparts, children have much more difficulty fighting off food poisoning and the more serious diseases associated with contaminated food.
Children who do survive their ordeal aren’t always able to return to normal.
Dr. Miyagishima insisted that, “young children who survive some of the more serious foodborne diseases may suffer consequences, such as developmental delays, for the rest of their lives.”
Although the majority of diseases caused by contaminated food do occur mostly in low-income countries, food needs to be handled safely everywhere. Living in a high-income country will not aid anyone if the food is being mishandled. Especially in cases where it is consumed by someone with an underdeveloped or compromised immune system.
How can you prevent getting sick or exposing your loved ones to contaminated food? Dr. Miyagishima gave some simple instructions on the subject.
“Now, more than ever, it’s critical that food safety is integrated into school education and that those who prepare food — at home or in small food operations — are educated and supported to better protect the health of their communities … there are some basic principles that each of us can take on board that will help reduce our own risk and the overall burden: wash hands regularly; keep raw and cooked meats separate; cook food thoroughly; keep food at safe temperatures; and use safe water and raw materials.”
[Photo by China Photos/Getty Images]