It’s common knowledge that unhealthy food leads to numerous health problems but if we were to give a figure to the number of diseases that can arise out of unsafe food, what would it be. It may sound alarming but as per the report by World Health Organisation (WHO), unhealthy food that may contain bacteria, parasites, viruses and other chemical substances is responsible for more than 200 diseases. It does not stop here as 2 million deaths reported in the world occur due to contaminated food and drinking water. Unsafe food can lead to a range of health problems, like diarrheal disease, viral disease, reproductive and developmental problems, cancer etc. It’s pretty much clear how important safe food is for good health.
With the aim to bring myriad issues affecting health to light, WHO celebrates World Health Day every year on 7th April. This year, the theme for World Health Day is “Food Safety” but lets not mix food safety with food security here, food security means food for everyone, while food safety means providing healthy and hygienic food to the people.
With 1.3 billion population, the Indian Government has a tough task to maintain high standards of safe food and beverages. Food safety is not that much of a concern for the country, where a large chunk of population struggles even to get two times of meal a day. According to the UNICEF report 2006, India has the 3rd largest number of underweight children in the world. We might be the youngest country in the world with 50 percent of our population under the age of 25 but, are we the healthiest? Will we ever be able to use the full capacity of our total manpower, with so many health hazards plaguing them? With thousands of children dying everyday due to diarrhoea alone (caused by bad food and water), where do we stand in the health index of the world? But of course, with daily income of Rs. 32 to Rs. 47, it is difficult to maintain good health standards.
We talk about HIV, Tuberculosis (TB), Malaria, polio and cancer awareness, but somewhere down the line, we forget to focus on basic necessity like clean water and safe food. These can boost immunity and prevent the origin of many diseases. But does our Government pay enough attention to ensure safe food standards?
The story of ignorance just doesn’t end with the Government. How many of us pay attention to the quality of food we eat? We also don’t put much effort in ensuring the safety of food, compromising on the quality we can get. Most of us don’t even bother to check the content labels on the packets of processed food.
Take the example of Delhi, which is famous for giving people “Delhi Belly”. In the morning you will see many people grabbing a bite from the food stalls, restaurants and dhabas. Does anyone check the hygienic standards of these places? Do we have enough health inspectors, to keep a regular check on grocery stores and restaurants? With all the flies flying around the food, dirty uniforms of the cooks, logged water in the kitchens, it’s clear not much attention is paid after giving license to the food vendors.
The Government should ensure that the standard of food production and storage is maintained, food godowns and shops are inspected regularly while the use of pesticides and chemicals in agriculture are regulated and organic farming is promoted.
Apart from this, we as responsible citizens can follow the suggestions given by WHO to ensure food safety:
- Know your food – Check the labels, learn how to prepare and store food you are not familiar with
- Handle, store and prepare food safely – Avoid over cooking, store raw and cooked food separately, store chemical products in safe place, don’t reuse containers that were initially used for storing chemicals
- Teach health practices to others in your community
- Make safe/wise choices – Take particular care in preparing food for pregnant ladies and make sure the food you consume is stored in a hygienic place
If we stick to these basic rules, a lot of diseases can be avoided and a lot of lives can be saved. We must understand that our well being is in our own hands. With the right kind of food safety policies by the Government and awareness among the people, a healthy lifestyle can be created in the country. This will also contribute towards building a healthy economy, leading to utilisation of the full capacity of its workforce, instead of spending resources on fighting diseases.
By – Karan Pundir
Media & Communication, Fiinovation