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Why A Food Safety Week?

F​ood safety awareness is gaining momentum in many countries as food borne illnesses are on the rise. The risks of food contam​ination escalate when food products pass through several handling processes along the route of preparation (including household) and transportation, from the farm to the consumer.

Many people have experienced food poisoning after consuming food. The most common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever. Others, for example, may have had the experience of an extensive sudden rash after eating a tuna sandwich. What ever the combination of symptoms, the onset may be within a matter of minutes or after a few hours or days. This depends on the causative bugs.

Food borne illnesses may cause a great deal of discomfort, work absences but rarely complications. Many of these episodes are self-limiting; others may be more severe and prolonged and may require medical attention or hospital admission. Those most vulnerable are children, the elderly, pregnant women and those suffering from chronic conditions.

The local situation is under scrutiny of the Department for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP) where episodes and outbreaks of food borne illness are investigated. The greater number of food poisonings occur in the home! (Table 1). Food borne outbreaks are less common but might involve a large number of people (e.g. from a wedding reception).

​Year

Cases of food poisoning

2007

257

2006​

201

2005

238

2004

289

2003

236

2002

175

2001

127

2000

154

Table1 shows the number of food poisoning cases originating from homes, and notified to the department. This data excludes outbreaks, and is thought to be the tip of the ice-berg

It is estimated that in Australia 5.4 million people suffer from food poisoning, while in the UK 4.5 million suffer from similar illness each year (i.e. 1 in 10 people). Continuing research since the start of the first Food Safety Week in Australia, 10 years ago, shows that the number of Australians who recognise that hands should be washed with soap and water and dried thoroughly before handling food has gone up from 43% in 1997 to 97% in 2007. Men rate worst in their knowledge of food hygiene and food safety principles.

Many food borne illnesses can be prevented if proper food hygiene and safety is practiced in households (including picnics barbeques) and catering establishments (e.g. restaurants and take away!). Safety measures are geared to eliminate cross-contamination and multiplication of bacteria or their destruction: such as frequent and proper hand washing; separation of raw foods from cooked foods; cooking to the appropriate temperatures, for the right ation and to the core (adequate thawing is essential!); correct cooling and freezing of foods (maintenance of the right temperatures).

These measures can be sorted into 4 categories:


While a food safety week is geared to raise awareness, each one of us shoulders some degree of responsibility. Managers of catering establishments have a responsibility that is established by law.

Malta, together with the European Union and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are practicing a policy of food safety at all levels, the so called Farm to Fork Policy. All measures taken are aimed at this noble cause.


Escherichia coli bacteria as seen under the microscope. This causes a substantial amount of gastro intestinal illness.


Salmonella bacterium as seen under the microscope. Salmonella are some of the commonest causative agents of food poisoning and human illness! ​


Related Links

Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Unit​

Food Safety Information Council (Australia)

Food and Drink Federation (United Kingdom)

This article was compiled by:

Dr Anthony Gatt & Ms Lucienne Pace
Department for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
5B, The Emporium, C de. Brocktorff Street,
Msida, MSD 1421.
Tel: 23266118, 21332235​