Caribbean continues to encounter multiple threats to food security, safety – CARPHA on World Food Safety Day

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(Caribbean Public Health Agency Press Release) The Caribbean region joins with the global community in celebrating World Food Safety Day (WFSD). As of 2018, WFSD is celebrated each year on 7 June, and is aimed at drawing attention and inspiring action, at all levels and from all sectors, to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks.

By doing this, we all share a responsibility in contributing to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, access to regional and international markets, tourism, and sustainable development.

This year’s theme, “Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow”, highlights the need of sustainable production systems to ensure the health of people, the planet, and the economy in the long-term. It is important to recognise that the health of people, animals and the environment is interconnected, and that any safety adverse event may have a global impact on public health, trade and economy. This can pose rather detrimental to the sustainable development of Caribbean States. CARPHA acknowledges this and works with our Member States to develop an integrative approach to the surveillance of foodborne illness.

This multisectoral, “One Health” approach requires engagement and collaboration from many parties. Some of these include agriculture, environmental management, animal health, abattoirs, pharmaceutical industry, health and laboratory diagnostics. A collaborative approach is required to address good food production and handling practices, climate change and food safety and traceability to outbreaks and hazards.

The Caribbean continues to encounter multiple threats to food security and safety. Some of these threats include climate change, emerging diseases, and issues in border control and security. Unemployment and poverty, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, result in food insecurity and limits people’s access to safer, healthier food options.

On 3rd June 2021, Dr. Lisa Indar, CARPHA Director for Surveillance Disease Prevention and Control (SDPC), presented at World Food Safety Day for Latin America and the Caribbean.

This virtual meeting was hosted by multiple regional organisations in food safety and security, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Center for Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Veterinary Public Health, and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture. 

Dr. Indar stressed that food must be healthy, safe, available, and affordable to all in our Region. She lamented those foodborne diseases are preventable, yet the burden of illness remains high for the Region. Many outbreaks are underreported, and the burden of illness falls heavily on infants, elderly persons, pregnant women, the immunocompromised and persons experiencing poverty.

In the Caribbean, 1 in 49 people fall ill from a foodborne disease. At mass gatherings, such as Carnivals and at family events for the holidays, 1 in 11 people fall ill. Caribbean countries have been estimated to spend 21 million USD annually, in managing and addressing foodborne diseases.

The Caribbean’s population is exposed to multiple disease-causing agents, which are bacterial, parasitic, and viral in origin. Norovirus, Campylobacter, Giardia and Salmonella spp. contribute to the greatest burden of illness and hospitalizations. Diseases from seafood, namely vibriosis and ciguatera toxicosis are health concerns faced by some Caribbean States. The ecology of these mentioned disease agents is also influenced by climate change. Increasing air and water surface temperatures and worsening floods and storms will increase the risk of exposure to many persons, pets and food-producing animals.

Foodborne diseases are a priority for the Caribbean’s travel and tourism sector. Globally, the Caribbean continues to stand as the premier visitor destination for tourists. The tourism and travel sector contribute 40-60% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for some of our countries. Ensuring a healthier, safer destination, is critical for many Caribbean States, as we market ourselves as a safe option for travel, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disease outbreaks at hotels and on cruise ships often lead to reputational damage and a loss in income to the involved industry and the country.

To effectively address these challenges, and to build resilience for the tourism sector, CARPHA has implemented an innovative, near real-time surveillance system called the Tourism and Health Information System (THiS). This surveillance system provides an early-warning and mitigation of foodborne outbreaks at Caribbean hotels and stay-in accommodations. To date, CARPHA has trained over 600 facilities in the Region in the use of THiS.

In collaboration with our regional stakeholders, CARPHA has trained and built capacity in multiple Member States in sampling, testing, disease investigation and risk communication. Our Member States continue to benefit from an integrated, One Health approach to preventing and managing foodborne disease outbreaks. Graduates of the CARPHA Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP) have been instrumental in investigating foodborne outbreaks in countries.  Our Environmental Health and Sustainable Development (EHSD) department conducts testing on food and environmental samples. The Caribbean Medical Microbiology Laboratory (CMML) is equipped to conduct molecular testing and isolation for isolated pathogens and stool samples.

CARPHA will continue to support and build capacity for the implementation of multisectoral, integrative surveillance for foodborne diseases. We are currently scaling up our surveillance and response measures to foodborne illness.   CARPHA aims to work with its Member States in food safety and security to ensure a safe today, for a healthy tomorrow. 

Additional information and resources on safe food handling and WFSD 2021

YouTube Video: WHO: Five keys to safer food

Food Handlers Manual: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241594639

World Food Safety Day 2021: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-food-safety-day/2021

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