How Safe is Our Food?

The key to good health and sustainable life comes from consuming safe and nutritious food. Impacts of population growth, climate change, changing food systems and global food imports has made it difficult to create an environment with safe food consumption.

“It is mindboggling what some food establishments think is acceptable in their kitchens.” ~ Ricky Sharpe, Principal Consultant, Lead of the Commercial Division

Unsafe food creates a chain reaction of harmful diseases and malnutrition affecting Public Health. Food that is not correctly treated can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances that can lead to varying infections and diseases from diarrhoea to cancer.

Reports from WHO (World Health Organization) estimated that there are 600 million (around 1 in 10) people who fall ill after eating contaminated food each year, which can result in 420,000 deaths.

Now, more than ever Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) specialising in Food Safety (including food scientists) must detect, respond and prevent food outbreaks and unsafe food that can threaten our public health.

What are Foodborne Illnesses?

Contaminated food is infectious or toxic in nature, caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances entering the body. Foodborne diseases may lead to cancer, disabilities, developmental issues and in worse case death.


Foodborne pathogens cause a number of diseases with significant effects on human health and economy. Campylobacter, Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E.coli) are common types of foodborne pathogens that affect millions of people annually, sometimes with severe and fatal outcomes with symptoms like fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
Bacteria growth can exist when food is left in optimal temperatures (around 20 °C to 45 °C), with some being able to resist heat and refrigerated conditions.

Where are they found?

  • Campylobacter: raw milk, raw or undercooked poultry and drinking contaminated water.
  • Salmonella: raw eggs, poultry and other products of animal origin.
  • E.Coli: unpasteurized milk, undercooked meat and contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables.


Viruses can only multiply inside living cells of other organisms; some viruses have a high resistance to stresses such as heat, drying, freezing, UV light etc. Foodborne viruses can occur through the contamination of food by infected food handlers due to poor hygienic practices, contact of food with animal waste, human sewage or sewage-polluted water or consumption of products of animal origin contaminated with viruses.

Where are they found?

  • Norovirus: ingesting tiny amounts of these faeces or vomit, which can be found on unwashed food, contaminated water, or surfaces.
  • Hepatitis A: transmitted by food, raw or undercooked seafood or contaminated water.


These are organisms that live in other living organisms known as hosts, they live and reproduce within the tissues and organs of infected hosts, and are often excreted in faeces. They can be transmitted from host to host through consumption of contaminated food and water.

Where are they found?

  • Tapeworms: infect people through food or direct contact with animals.
  • Giardia duodenalis, Cryptosporidium parvum, Cyclospora cayetanensis, Toxoplasma gondii, Trichinella spiralis, Taenia saginata, and Taenia solium, enter the food chain via water or soil and can contaminate fresh produce.


Chemical contaminants are substances that are unintentionally present in food, they can impact our health by naturally occurring toxins and environmental pollutants. Chemicals are present in food as a result of various stages of its production, processing or transport as well as environmental contamination.

Where are they found?

  • Natural Toxins: include mycotoxins, marine biotoxins, cyanogenic glycosides and toxins occurring in poisonous mushrooms. Staple foods like corn or cereals can contain high levels of mycotoxins, produced by mould on grain. A long-term exposure can affect the immune system and normal development, or cause cancer.
  • Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs): are poisonous chemical substances that break down slowly and accumulate in food chains. They are found in unwanted by-products of industrial processes and waste incineration. These toxic chemicals can interfere with hormones, cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system and cancer.
  • Heavy Metals: Lead, Cadmium and Mercury cause neurological and kidney damage. Contamination occurs through pollution of water and soil into food
  • Other chemical hazards in food can include radioactive nucleotides that can be discharged into the environment from industries and from civil or military nuclear operations, food allergens, residues of drugs and other contaminants incorporated in the food during the process.

How would we prevent Foodborne Outbreaks?

“From the basics of staff washing their hands before prep to avoiding cross-contamination of ingredients, customers have the right to purchase and enjoy a meal that has been prepared without the risk of becoming ill with food poisoning or even more fatal.” ~ Ricky Sharpe

How do we practice Food Safety at Home? 

“Every year, an estimated 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalised, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Solution

The solution is simple, by following the 4 main steps: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. Here are a things you can do at home to have safe food:

  • Wash your hands
  • Clean your worktops, utensils, chopping boards and environment
  • Separate uncooked meat, poultry and seafood
  • Fully cook or reheat your food to kill germs / bacteria
  • Store food immediately into containers
  • Refrigerate and freeze food
  • Check “Best Before” / “Use by” dates on packaging

Next Issue…

CEO of Buckingham Futures, Ketan Dattani will share his insight on the current issues of Equality, Diversity Inclusion in the Environmental Health industry.

Ricky Sharpe ~ Principal Consultant, Lead of the Commercial Division

Nick Cheung ~ Marketing Executive

Buckingham Futures HQ

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