How to protect your child from foodborne diseases

Did you know that 30% of foodborne disease deaths are in children? Here’s how to keep your child safe.

How to protect your child from foodborne disease
 Children, especially those under the age of 15, are at a particularly high risk for foodborne diseases. Ensure the food you serve your child is safe to eat.

It’s a tragic fact: foodborne diseases are killing children. Almost one-third (30 percent) of all deaths from foodborne diseases are in children under the age of five years, despite the fact that they make up only nine percent of the global population. This is among the findings of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases – the most comprehensive report to date on the impact of contaminated food on health and well-being.

What are foodborne diseases?

The burden of foodborne diseases is caused by 31 agents – including bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and chemicals.

What causes foodborne diseases?

Diarrhoeal diseases are responsible for more than half of the global burden of foodborne diseases. Children are at particular risk of foodborne diarrhoeal diseases, with 220 million falling ill and 96 000 dying every year.

Raw or undercooked food

Diarrhoea is often caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, fresh produce, and dairy products contaminated by the norovirus, campylobacter, non-typhoidal salmonella, and pathogenic coli.

Typhoid fever, hepatitis A, tapeworm, and mould on grain

Other major contributors to the global burden of foodborne diseases are typhoid fever, hepatitis A, Taenia solium (a tapeworm), and aflatoxin (produced by mould on grain that is stored inappropriately). Certain diseases, such as those caused by non-typhoidal salmonella, are a public health concern across all regions of the world, in high- and low-income countries alike. Other diseases, such as typhoid fever, foodborne cholera, and those caused by pathogenic coli, are much more common to low-income countries, while campylobacter is an important pathogen in high-income countries.

Unsafe water and poor hygiene

The risk of foodborne diseases is most severe in low- and middle-income countries, linked to preparing food with unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage; lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation.

What are the symptoms?

Foodborne diseases can cause short-term symptoms, commonly referred to as food poisoning, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. But foodborne disease can also cause longer-term illnesses, such as cancer, kidney or liver failure, and brain and neural disorders. These diseases may be more serious in children, pregnant women, and those who are older or have a weakened immune system. Children who survive some of the more serious foodborne diseases may suffer from delayed physical and mental development, impacting their quality of life permanently.

Keep your children safe

Here are some tips to help keep your young ones safe from foodborne diseases:

  • Practice hand and household hygiene: Wash hands and surfaces often, especially before and after preparing food. Clean and disinfect nappy areas and potty chairs after each use.
  • Know the high-risk foods for children under five: Stay away from raw or undercooked meats, poultry and eggs, unpasteurised milk or juice, and raw or undercooked seafood.
  • Ensure food is fresh: For babies, monitor baby food that has been opened or freshly made, these should be refrigerated within two hours of use and can be kept for one to two days in the refrigerator.
  • Don’t “double-dip”: Do not feed babies from the baby food container, then store it in the fridge for later use. Instead, remove a portion of the food to another bowl or plate and then serve it to the child. Harmful bacteria can multiply and make the child sick, so don’t “double-dip” with baby food.
  • Watch out for symptoms: If your family has recently been to a foreign country and your child starts having diarrhea or other stomach problems, call your doctor immediately.