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Updated WHO Data Finds Deaths Caused By Tainted Food Are Underestimated

New WHO data finds that unsafe food kills an estimated 1.2 million people over the age of five in Southeast Asia and Africa each year, including three times more adults than previously thought, Reuters reports. “It is a picture that we have never had before,” WHO Food Safety Director Jorgen Schlundt said. “We now have documentation of a significant burden outside the less than five group, that is major new information.”

“Ailments linked to contaminated food and water have long been seen as a major threat to young children, who can dehydrate quickly,” but their impact on older populations was underestimated, Schlundt said. “Older children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to severe illness from major food- and water-borne diseases such as salmonella, listeria, E. coli, Hepatitis A and cholera,” Reuters writes.

Food safety experts have started to examine the impact foodborne diseases are having on people over the age of five years in “the Arab world, Latin America and elsewhere in Asia including China,” according to the news service. “Literally millions are dying every year and we know that a lot of these could be prevented,” Schlundt said. “There is a realisation that instead of doing what we did in the past, in the future we should really focus on where the problems are.”

The article examines how the globalization of the food supply may contribute to the spread of foodborne illness and how developing countries are less able to monitor tainted foods. “Because it is now clear that some foods are more vulnerable to certain food-borne ailments than others, health officials are well-placed to focus their energies on monitoring areas posing the highest potential disease risk, according to Schlundt,” Reuters writes (MacInnis, 11/11).