PAHO/WHO recommends preventive action throughout the food chain, from production to consumption, and at home "five keys to safer food"

Washington, DC, 6 April 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — Food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or harmful chemicals causes over 200 diseases, from diarrhea to cancer. To raise awareness and promote preventive action throughout the food chain, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is focusing its 2015 World Health Day campaign on the issue of food safety.

"From farm to plate, keep it safe" is this year's slogan for World Health Day, observed annually to mark the anniversary of WHO's founding in 1948.

"Diseases caused by contaminated food are a serious problem for people's health and can jeopardize our countries' development, trade and tourism," said PAHO/WHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. "In the Americas, with our abundant food production, we can prevent most of these illnesses with strong food safety systems."

Globally, over 582 million people fall ill and more than 350,000 die annually from foodborne illnesses including salmonellosis, gastrointestinal disease, Escherichia coli infection. These illnesses result from eating unsafe foods such as undercooked meat, fruits and vegetables contaminated with feces or pesticides, and raw seafood containing marine biotoxins.

Globalization has increased the interconnectedness of the world's food chains and, in parallel, the number, frequency and sites of foodborne illnesses. Rapid urbanization has also magnified the risks, as people eat more food prepared outside the home, which is not always properly prepared and handled.

In the Americas, about one in four people suffers an episode of foodborne illness each year. Children, pregnant women, immunosuppressed persons, and older adults are the most vulnerable.

"Rapid identification of outbreaks of foodborne diseases and timely and coordinated response are crucial for minimizing the impact of these outbreaks on the population's health and on countries' economies," said Enrique Pérez, PAHO/WHO Senior Advisor on Foodborne and Zoonotic Diseases.

While there are no estimates of the total costs (including medical care, drugs and lost work hours) of these diseases at the regional level, the available data indicate $700,000 to $19 million in annual health costs in Caribbean countries and more than $77 million in the United States.

Five keys to preventing foodborne illness

Food can become contaminated at any point in the food chain, so everyone along that chain must take measures to keep food safe—from producers to processers, retailers and consumers.

In the home and in food establishments, proper handling of food can be assured by observing PAHO/WHO's "five keys to food safety":

  1. keep clean
  2. separate raw and cooked
  3. cook thoroughly
  4. keep food at safe temperatures
  5. use safe water and raw materials.

five keys to safe food handling

World Health Day event: How safe is your food?

To mark World Health Day 2015, PAHO/WHO and the United Nations Foundation will host a webcast on April 7 from 10 to 10:45 a.m. (EDT) featuring experts who will answer questions about "How safe is your food?"

Participants will include Bernard Vallat, Director of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE); Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Juergen Voegele, Senior Director for Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank; Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne.

The webcast can be viewed at

PAHO/WHO works with its member countries to strengthen integrated food safety surveillance systems, to ensure strong inspection and control systems to prevent national and international incidents due to contaminated food, and to enhance laboratory capacities needed to protect food safety.


PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.


— World Health Day 2015

— List of World health Day 2015 videos (PAHO/WHO)

— #SafeFood #SocialGood