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Global Networks Make Food Safer

Think locally, act globally

Hunting down the foodborne sources of diarrheal disease requires epidemiologists, laboratorians, and veterinarians to regularly communicate with each other and share findings.

Photo: Water market

Food is essential. It provides nutrition, builds relationships, and sustains life. We all deserve healthy, safe foods, yet many countries lack basic laboratory, and public health resources to identify, track, and stop the spread of foodborne illnesses.

Once food becomes contaminated, germs and infection can spread rapidly through families or between continents. Acting globally means sharing solutions and resources throughout the world to make food safer.

Getting food to your table is a complex process. Food goes through many stages and touches countless people before it reaches you. Food safety is a shared responsibility between producers, industry, governments, and consumers.1

The Global Foodborne Infections Network (GFN) and PulseNet International are worldwide organizations that help countries to strengthen their ability to detect and control diseases.

Training + country perspectives = better collaborations to prevent foodborne disease

In 2000, after a World Health Organization (WHO) survey showed that many countries lacked basic laboratory and public health resources to detect foodborne diseases, CDC and partners developed the Global Foodborne Infections Network.

This network integrates food, public health, and veterinary expertise to detect infections caused by contaminated food. Today, 1,600 members from national laboratories and other institutes in 180 countries make up this network.

Country snapshot: China
Food safety starts in the laboratory and connects to the field

Photo: Bowl of Chinese foodCDC laboratory experts from Atlanta and the Global Disease Detection Center in China are tailoring proven approaches from the United States to help the Chinese Ministry of Health, PulseNet China (member of PulseNet International), and other partners find the cause of foodborne disease outbreaks. Like fingerprints, disease-causing germs leave their own genetic marks. Laboratory techniques can effectively "dust" for evidence to prove whether two ill people, were sickened by the same germ, regardless of where they live.

This collaboration has helped equip Chinese microbiologists and epidemiologists with laboratory tools and methods for foodborne disease detection. Now, eight provinces can receive specimens in their laboratories and identify common and new foodborne diseases.2 Moreover, advanced approaches are being developed in three of these provinces. Disease scientists can better narrow their search for the tainted food and protect people from further exposures. The impact has been clear: more data and better detection of cases and clusters are possible through improved laboratory detection. The successful training, validated through global publications, is now a model for other sites in China.3 This essential step makes food safer—whether consumed in China, exported to the United States, or shipped worldwide.

Photo: 5 Keys to Safer Foods

WHO "Five keys to safer food" poster. Available in 82 languages on WHO site.

What about consumers?

Countries must have the right tools to connect people, germs, and food around the world. Tainted food can occur during any stage of food production, as we have seen in many high profile outbreaks, including the outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O104 associated with contaminated sprouts linked to travel to Germany.

Foodborne diseases can happen anywhere foods are improperly prepared or mishandled—including homes, restaurants, or street vendors. According to WHO, there is a lack of awareness in developing countries that food can make an individual sick if it is not properly handled, prepared and stored. In developed countries, consumers may take the safety of food for granted.

Today, there are more food choices than ever before. Consumers face many complex options. What foods do I choose? How do I cook and store foods? And, how do I keep cooking areas clean? They may also lack knowledge about which foods, ingredients, and practices pose the greatest risk for foodborne disease.

Consumers need basic knowledge to minimize their risks of foodborne illness and make the best choices.4

Keys to Safer Food

Consumers play a key role in protecting themselves. WHO recommends that consumers should always follow safe food-handling guidelines:

  1. Keep food clean;
  2. Separate raw and cooked foods;
  3. Cook food thoroughly;
  4. Keep food at safe temperatures; and
  5. Use safe water and raw materials.5

Learn more about how the World Health Organization is working on behalf of consumers around the world.

Key Resources


  2. [PDF - 5.65MB], page 27
  5. [PDF - 279KB]