Protecting Consumers through improved food safety practices

Consumers have a right to expect that the foods they purchase and consume will be safe and of high quality. They have a right to voice their opinions about the food control procedures, standards and activities that governments and industry use to ascertain that the food supply has these characteristics.

It is highly important for food producer and retailers such as supermarkets and grocery stores to ensure food safety is met to a high standard and pests are proactively prevented to protect consumers from potential health risks.

Food producers and retailers have a duty not simply to ensure food is safe but also to provide information to consumers about foods that is clear, accurate and based on scientific evidence. The legislation prohibits the use of information and claims about food that is misleading. This also ensures fair competition between businesses.

A safe food and water supply of adequate quality is essential for proper nutrition. The food supply must have an appropriate nutrient content and it must be available in sufficient variety and quantity. It must not endanger consumer health through chemical, biological and other contaminants and it must be presented honestly. Food safety and quality control ensures that the desirable characteristics of food are retained throughout the production, handling, processing, packaging, distribution and preparation stages. This promotes healthy diets, reduces food losses and encourages domestic and international food trade. Food quality encompasses the basic composition of foods and aspects concerning food safety. Consumers have the right to a good quality and safe food supply, and government and food industry actions are needed to ensure this. Effective food quality and safety control programmes are essential and may comprise a variety of measures, such as laws, regulations and standards, together with systems for effective inspection and compliance monitoring including laboratory analysis. Where appropriate, governments, in close collaboration with other interested parties, should:

(a) Adopt and strengthen comprehensive measures to cover the control of food quality and safety with a view to protecting the health of consumers and producers and ensuring sound production, good manufacturing and fair trade practices. Where measures exist they should be regularly reviewed and updated, as appropriate, for better producer and consumer protection.

(b) Establish measures to protect the consumer from unsafe, low quality, adulterated, misbranded or contaminated foods. Measures should include provisions for minimum acceptable levels of food quality and safety, for differences in the ways in which food is produced, processed, packaged, labelled and stored, as well as for the conditions under which it is presented and purveyed. Food labels should be clear and easy to understand and attention should be given to harmonizing labelling requirements; better information on nutrient analysis and food composition is needed for this task. Measures to assist individuals with food intolerances should be considered. Claims in food labelling or advertising should be carefully controlled and false or misleading claims should be prohibited. WHO should encourage greater involvement of developing countries in Codex activities and review avenues to facilitate such participation and they should find appropriate means of making contact with concerned food control institutions and provide them with information and technical knowledge in this field.

(c) Give high priority to establishing food safety and quality control infrastructures, including food inspection, sampling and laboratory facilities to enforce the law and regulations, to ensure that food products comply with applicable requirements for domestic consumption or export.

(d) Give consumer and producer organizations rights of consultation with advisory and decision-making bodies and facilitate open and transparent access to information and participation in the establishment of food safety, quality control and labelling standards. Also, establish or strengthen mechanisms to resolve consumer problems with the food supply. Cooperation should be fostered among the food sector, government and consumers.

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