In every part of the world, people wage a constant battle against food contamination, foodborne diseases, and food wastage. Efforts to reduce the devastating consequences of food contamination started long before written records. Cooking, smoking, and simple sun drying were probably the first methods ever used. Despite considerable advances in food science and technology, the safety of our food supply is even today a cause for considerable concern.

In 1983, an Expert Committee on Food Safety concluded that "illness due to contaminated food was perhaps the most widespread health problem in the contemporary world and an important cause of reduced economic productivity" (WHO, 1984). In 1992, the International Conference on Nutrition stated that hundreds of millions of people suffer from communicable diseases caused by contaminated food and drinking water. This conference declared that "access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is a right of each individual" (WHO, 1996).

Not only has epidemiological surveillance during the past two to three decades shown an increase in the prevalence of foodborne illness, there have also been devastating outbreaks of diseases such as salmonellosis, cholera, enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) infections, and hepatitis A in both developed and developing countries. Furthermore, cholera and other diarrheal diseases, particularly infant diarrhea, which were traditionally considered to be spread by water or through person-to-person contact, were shown to be largely foodborne. In industrialized countries, sentinel studies showed an unexpectedly high annual prevalence of foodborne disease, i.e., 10 to 15% of the population. In the United States, this figure may be as high as 25 to 30% (Mead et al. 1999). One can safely assume this figure to be higher in developing countries, and the health consequences more severe.

Regarding chemical aspects, surveys made in industrialized countries suggest that the food supply is largely safe thanks to regulatory efforts and the general level of responsibility of the food industry. However, even in those countries accidental contamination or adulteration does occur, with potentially grave consequences. The situation in developing countries is virtually unknown due to lack of monitoring and surveillance programs. But reports of accidental or deliberate food contamination are brought time and again to the attention of health authorities.

It is certain that the problems of food safety will plague mankind in the 21st century, especially as several global changes continue to negatively influence the safety of food and drinking water. Such changes include population growth, urbanization, poverty, international trade in food and animal feed, and international tourism.

The World Health Organization has, for the past 20 years, urged governmental public health agencies, the entire food industry, and consumers to assume greater responsibility for food safety. As a consequence of this advocacy, but also because the health and economic consequences related to contaminated food became more noticeable, the World Health Assembly adopted in May 2000 a resolution on food safety (WHA 53.15, May 20, 2000). This resolution calls upon countries, but also upon WHO itself, to integrate food safety as one of their essential public health functions. This is truly a milestone in the history of public health since, for the first time in WHO's 52 years of existence, food safety has been recognized not only as a public health responsibility but as an essential function of the pubic health community. It remains to be seen if and when WHO and its Member States adopt the necessary consequences as a result of this resolution, in the form of the provision of adequate resources and strengthening of national and international food safety programs.

In the past decade or so, more books on food safety have been published than ever before. This is a very desirable development, indicative of the greater interest in this branch of public health. The present book is a laudable addition to the already available arsenal of food safety books, providing up-to-date information on foodborne pathogens, on the incidence of foodborne diseases in various parts of the world, and on international food regulatory developments. The publisher of this book as well as its two editors, Drs. Miliotis and Bier, deserve praise for taking this initiative in this truly timely manner. I hope the book has many interested readers.

Fritz Kaferstein International Food Safety Consultant Nyon, Switzerland

Former Director of WHO's Food Safety and Food Aid Programme

Geneva, Switzerland Founding Fellow

International Academy of Food Science and Technology

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