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publication October 23, 2018

The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries



  • Unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies US$ 110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year.
  • Preventative measures—including greater investment, better regulatory frameworks and measures that promote behavior change—can help countries avoid food safety problems
  • 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

In many developing countries, food safety usually receives minimal policy attention and investment and only tends to capture national attention during foodborne disease outbreaks and other crises. As a result, many countries have weak food safety systems in terms of infrastructure, trained human resources, food safety culture and enforceable regulations.  The costs of unsafe food are high—especially in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, which have the highest incidence of foodborne diseases. Aside from public health costs and the loss of productivity associated with food-borne diseases, disruptions to food markets and impediments to agri-food exports due to food safety problems also take a toll.

The good news is that much of the burden of unsafe food can be avoided through practical and often low-cost behavior and infrastructure changes at different points along food value chains, including in traditional food production and distribution channels. The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries provides countries with a guide to avoiding the burden of unsafe food—including the right type of investments, policies, and other interventions.

Main Messages:

  • Unsafe food undermines food and nutritional security, human development, the broader food economy, and international trade.
  • The total productivity loss associated with foodborne disease in low- and middle-income countries is estimated to cost $95.2 billion per year, and the annual cost of treating foodborne illnesses is estimated at $15 billion. Other costs include losses of farm and company sales, foregone trade income, the health repercussions of consumer avoidance of perishable yet nutrient-rich foods, and the environmental burden of food waste.
  • Instead of the traditional ‘regulator-regulated’ approach focused on enforcement and penalties, government efforts should focus on incentivizing and facilitating the delivery of safe production, processing and distribution of food.

There is also a need for more sustained investments in food safety that build country capacity to manage food safety risks, and encourage behavioral change in different stakeholders.