About Foodborne Illness


Foodborne illness is a serious global health issue. Of the 600 million people sickened by it around the world each year, an estimated 420,000 will die – 1/3 of them, children. This impact is comparable to malaria and tuberculosis.

Food safety is a global public good and is critical to ensuring food security and life-sustaining nutrition. Foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, places a significant economic burden on society. Those sickened by foodborne illness often incur medical costs and are temporarily unable to work, resulting in productivity losses.

Unsafe food carries significant economic costs for food producers as well. These include loss of farm and company sales, loss of consumer confidence, and reduced access to local and global markets. Unsafe foods also increase food loss and waste, which can have significant environmental impacts.

Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) bear the greatest burden of foodborne disease. The World Bank has estimated that foodborne disease results in roughly $95.2 billion USD in productivity losses and roughly $15 billion USD in medical costs. This disproportionate burden is likely a result of higher populations, more challenging conditions, and limited access to health services.

Preventive measures, including greater financial investments, better regulatory frameworks and measures that promote behavior change, can help countries minimize global food safety problems. For example, an analysis by the World Bank found that the burden of foodborne disease in Sub-Saharan African countries with adequate levels of operational funding for veterinary services is less than half the burden in countries with inadequate levels of funding. An inclusive approach to food safety management that makes food safety a shared responsibility—among government, farmers, food businesses, and consumers—will be most effective. The greatest challenge to implementing food safety practices in LMICs has been finding economically and culturally acceptable ways of adopting approaches that have been successful in high-income countries.


Grace, D. 2015. Food safety in low and middle income countries. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(9), 10490-10507. doi:10.3390/ijerph120910490

Havelaar, A.H. The First FAO/WHO/AU International Food Safety Conference Addis Ababa, 12-13 February 2019: The public health burden of unsafe foods: a need for global commitment. Retrieved online 2019 at: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/resources/bp-the-public-health-burden-of-unsafe-foods---a-need-for-global-commitment-en.pdf

Jaffee S, Henson S, Unnevehr L, Grace D, Cassou E. The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progrees in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Washington, D.C.: World Bank; 2019.

Jaffee, S., Henson, S., Unnevehr, L., Grace, D., & Cassou, E. 2019. The safe food imperative : Accelerating progress in low- and middle-income countries (Agriculture and food series). Washington, DC: World Bank Group. Available online at:  https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/30568/9781464813450.pdf?sequence=6&isAllowed=y

The World Bank. 2018. Highlights from The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Retrieved online 2019 at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/publication/the-safe-food-imperative-accelerating-progress-in-low-and-middle-income-countries 

The World Health Organization. 2015. WHO’s first ever global estimates of foodborne diseases find children under 5 account for almost one third of deaths. Retrieved online 2019 at: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/03-12-2015-who-s-first-ever-global-estimates-of-foodborne-diseases-find-children-under-5-account-for-almost-one-third-of-deaths

The World Health Organization. Food Safety. Retrieved online 2019 at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/food-safety