Health Kalon’s Message of World Health Day 2015 (7th April)

“From farm to plate, make food safe”

It has always taken situations of crises for us to really take notice of the importance of food safety in our daily lives. We have often seen outbreaks of food poisoning in our schools and localities, and often times we have seen people fall sick due to unsafe food practices. In the presence of widely popular infectious and lifestyle diseases, we have somehow underestimated the enormous health risk brewing right under our very nose inside our homes with our daily practices of cooking food and food choices. This World Health Day 2015, we put the limelight of priority on practices of food safety and the need to strengthen food safety systems. The theme chosen this year by the World Health organization (WHO) focuses on this important issue with the slogan: “From farm to plate, make food safe”.

According to WHO, two million people die every year due to unsafe food, of which a large number is of vulnerable children. Unsafe food include uncooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with fecal particles, raw food etc. Food illnesses are usually infectious and toxic in nature and are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances entering the body through contaminated food or water. It must be remembered that food safety is inseparably related to nutrition and well being. Unsafe and unhygienic foods cause food illnesses that may lead to severe illnesses, long-lasting disabilities and even death. These illnesses lead to malnutrition, and thus create a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition that particularly affects infants, young children, elderly and the sick. From the very sources of food at the farms till the time it reaches our plate, we must be careful that the food remains safe for consumption. Governments must take action to maintain this safety by ways of improving food policy through safe handling and transport of food materials. More importantly, however, at local levels, it is the responsibility of every informed citizen to maintain and follow safe food practices.

In our Tibetan food culture, we are aware of various food practices at homes that can be deemed impending health risks. Practices of eating old food not stored hygienically at incorrect temperature, eating raw uncooked food, fermenting food articles for consumption, and relentless unrestrained consumption of street food are some of these practices. We must, therefore, be aware of the risks and be practical in terms of our food choices and practice safety and hygiene of the top order during food preparation. The cost of prevention is always minimal compared to the cost of disease rehabilitation.

WHO recommends ‘Five Keys to Safe Food’ which include keeping food clean, separating raw and uncooked food, cooking food thoroughly, keeping food at safe temperatures, and using safe water and raw materials for making food. As responsible food consumers, everyone must practice these five keys to safe food while cooking. Apart from that, we must know the food that we are using, that is to say that if we are buying certain food materials from the market, we must read the labels on the packages and make informed choices on whether to eat it or not. Also, while out in the markets, we must be careful about the street food that we eat and always be familiar with common food hazards. We can then teach healthy food practices to others in our community.

Food is one of the greatest sources of happiness and enjoyment in our lives. This World Health Day, let us all be aware of the hazards of food safety and food illnesses, and keeping that in mind, practice safety in our choices and preparation of food so as to lead healthy and happy lives.