Food safety is a major and persistent threat to the nutritional status of populations globally and is increasingly jeopardising the effectiveness of public health programmes. The burden of foodborne disease (FBD), estimated to be of the same order of magnitude as the burden of the “big three” (malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis), is expected to be further exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic and its impact on food systems globally. Our progress toward the 2nd United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030 may not be realised if we do not ensure food safety across the value chains to provide safe and nutrient-rich food to a growing global population.
Unsafe food can cause a variety of acute and chronic health impacts ranging from mild to debilitating or even life-threatening. In addition to increased morbidity and mortality, unsafe food results in significant socioeconomic impacts through healthcare costs and lost productivity, as well as harm to trade. There is evidence that foodborne disease also impacts outcomes that are also associated with nutrition, such as stunting and wasting. However, data on this component of the FBD burden and its underlying mechanisms are far from complete. Individuals in low-resource settings are considered to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of foodborne disease and associated nutrition impacts. However, more complete and accurate epidemiological data are needed to truly assess the impacts of foodborne diseases and their association with health and nutrition outcomes.
The aim of this report is to provide an overview of cross-pathways linking food safety/foodborne illness and nutrition and their shared impacts on health while highlighting research gaps and opportunities for intervention. This body of evidence is meant to support the development of a framework linking food safety and nutrition, as part of Feed the Future and EatSafe programming.
The review specifically focuses on the health implications of food safety on nutrition-relevant outcomes. In this context, food safety includes acute and long-term physiological impacts. Health-related nutrition outcomes considered include gut health, nutrient absorption, growth, and development outcomes, as well as outcomes related to metabolic and perinatal development.