Introduction Food safety guide Asia and the Pacific by FAO

is a critical component of food . Thus, it must be linked to all other elements that touch and surround it to provide safe foods. These elements may be scattered, neglected, or unclear in the ever-changing world. Therefore, this article gives an of various food safety concerns currently observed in and the Pacific region.


Furthermore, this document provides an index to the whole food safety toolkit, a collection of written materials (booklets) on the less known aspects of food safety that readers are encouraged to read in greater depth and consider.

Nevertheless, the objective of this toolkit as a whole is to bring some of the food safety issues to the attention of technical officials working in food safety in Asia and the Pacific, as well as other competent authorities in the region. Thus, this set of booklets adds to the important books that have already been written about microbiological and chemical to food safety. They cover issues that may have been overlooked or that people may not think of as food safety issues, but which have a big effect on food safety.

Food Safety in Asia and the Pacific

According to the article, in Asia and the Pacific, food safety issues and events are frequently reported in the media. These reports of food contamination and foodborne illness worry the public and affect local businesses. Thus, this leads to further negative economic repercussions, such as impacted trade and tourism, and a country's reputation is associated with unhealthy food.

Moreover, consumers' concern shows a lack of trust in the way food safety is enforced and applied. In addition, it emphasizes the need for increased infrastructural and technical ability to ensure that all goods available on the market are safe for human consumption by default.

Nowadays, it is widely acknowledged that food security, food safety, and nutrition are closely linked. Moreover, achieving zero hunger within the framework of Sustainable Goal 2 (SDG2) – Zero Hunger – requires not only providing adequate food for all but also ensuring safe and nutritious diets.

Microbes – number one killer in food safety

Food safety is a difficult subject that necessitates the involvement of numerous sectors and parties. While many people may think of food safety primarily regarding chemical contamination, microbiological contaminations, such as viruses, , and parasites, pose the greatest threat to food safety. 

According to the article, based on the global estimates of the burden of foodborne infections, Southeast Asia has the second largest burden after Africa. More than 150 million cases and 175 000 deaths per year. Furthermore, every year, up to 125 million people in the Western Pacific region become ill as a result of unsafe food, leading to over 50 000 deaths while, in the Western Pacific region alone, foodborne illnesses kill 7 000 children under the age of five. Nonetheless, 40 million (32 percent) of the 125 million people who fall ill as a result of poisoned food are youngsters under the age of five.

Despite these alarming figures, the public's awareness of the risk of microbial contamination in food is remarkably low. As a result, the FAO, in collaboration with its agencies and bodies, works on the topic of microbiological risks in food, developing various and methods to help nations effectively control the risks.

Regional food safety issues

Some examples of regional food safety issues are provided in this chapter. However, in the FAO article, the entire list is given.


  • In South East Asia, shellfish is the major cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, however, not in the Republic of Korea or Japan.
  • In Japan and the Republic of Korea, wheat allergy is the leading cause of anaphylaxis, yet it is a growing problem in Thailand.
  • Due to their extensive intake, , particularly chickpeas, are a major allergen in India.
  • Anaphylaxis caused by the intake of wheat flour contaminated with dust mites was frequently observed in places with a warm and humid climate that favors the proliferation of dust mites, particularly in stored wheat flour.
  • In Southeast Asian nations, galactooligosaccharide-containing formula allergy reports are widespread.
  • Peanut allergy reports are significantly reduced compared to other .

Source: Lee et al., 2013

Read the booklet on food allergies.

Antimicrobial resistance

  • Antimicrobial use is projected to increase by over 50% by 2030 if no action is done. (Van Boeckel et al., 2015 )
  • There is a link between the prevalence of AMR and unsanitary conditions. (Collignon et al., 2018 )
  • There is no AMR surveillance network in the Asia-Pacific region, and is missing (Yam et al., 2019). 
  • 73% of all antimicrobials sold worldwide are administered to animals reared for food production (Van Boeckel et al., 2019). 
  • Asia, which is home to 56% of the world's pigs and 54% of the world's , is the region with the highest prevalence of AMR in animals (Van Boeckel et al., 2019). 
  • Most low- and middle-income nations have weak or nonexistent antimicrobial monitoring regimes (Founou et al., 2016). 

According to reports, if left uncontrolled, drug-resistant diseases might kill 10 million people per year by 2050, leading to a negative effect on the global economy and costing more than USD 100 trillion (O'Neill, 2014). Therefore, immediate action is required. 

For further information, read the booklet on antimicrobial resistance.

Food fraud

  • On the Australian market, about 20 percent of honey is adulterated with such as cane sugar and syrup. The percentage of contaminated samples for imports from Asia rose to 50 percent (Zhou et al., 2018).
  • Bangladeshi national authorities were compelled to shut down a fake fruit juice production facility for making juices that were made using dangerous chemicals rather than actual fruit and did not contain any fruit (Daily Sun, 2018).
  • Pakistan is the fifth largest milk producer in the world, and authorities frequently seize milk tainted with urea and contaminated water (The News, 2019; Daily Times, 2019).
  • Scientists from China and Italy conducted DNA analysis on 153 samples from 30 different brands of roasted Xue Yu (a type of cod) fillet and discovered that 58% of the samples contained other fish species (Xiong et al., 2017). 
Figure 1: Examples of usually adulterated foods. Source: FAO, 2021

For further information, read the booklet on food fraud.

Modernization of food systems

To effectively improve food safety within informal and traditional food systems, it is essential to recognize that food safety is a shared responsibility in which everyone plays a role. While it is indisputable that fresh food markets and street food systems are expressions of history, culture, and traditions, there are frequent concerns about and biosecurity. Furthermore, as with other food systems, an informal economy exists behind fresh food markets. Therefore, it is difficult to be monitored by regulators and officials.


  • Throughout Asia and the Pacific, the informal economy employs more than 68 percent of the workforce (ILO, 2020a). 
  • In the region, 94.7 percent of agricultural employment—which reaches a high of 99.3 percent in South Asia—is performed informally. The share of informal employment is larger in the industrial sector (68.8%) than in the services sector (54.1%). (ILO, 2020a).

Parasitic diseases

In many countries, a veterinary authority or food safety authority is responsible for preventing human exposure to foodborne parasites, whereas, in others, parasites are not controlled at all. One of the difficulties is that affected animals may not show , making it difficult for farmers and authorities to detect a problem. Also, if there are no production or financial losses associated with the parasites in animals, there is no reason to control them. Thus, the job of food safety regulators grows in significance.

Furthermore, read the booklet on parasitic diseases for more information.


Food safety is a complicated subject, therefore, this document provides a non-exhaustive overview of some of the current food safety issues.


  • FAO. 2021. Layman's guide to food safety in Asia and the Pacific – Introduction to the food safety toolkit. Food safety technical toolkit for Asia and the Pacific No. 1. Bangkok.
  • Collignon, P., Beggs, J.J., Walsh, T.R., Gandra S. & Laxminarayan, R. 2018. Anthropological and socioeconomic factors contributing to global antimicrobial resistance: A univariate and multivariable analysis. Lancet Planet Health, 2(9):e398-e405. (Also available at https://doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(18)30186-4). 
  • Daily Sun. 2018. Food adulteration goes unchecked. In: Daily Sun [online]. London. [Cited on 2 October 2018]. printversion/details/340099/2018/10/02/Food-adulteration\
  • Founou, L.L., Founou, R.C. & Essack, S.Y. 2016. Antibiotic resistance in the food chain: A developing country perspective. Frontiers in , 7: 1–19. (Also available at https://doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.01881). 
  • Labour Organization. 2020a. More than 68 per cent of the employed population in Asia-Pacific are in the informal economy. In: ILO [online]. Geneva. [Cited 10 October 2020].–en/index.htm 
  • Lee, J., Thalayasingam, M. & Wah Lee, B. 2013. Food allergy in Asia: How does it compare? Asia Pacific Allergy. 3(1):3–14.
  • O'Neill, J. 2014. Antimicrobial resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations. Review of Antimicrobial Resistance [online]. [Cited 16 July 2020]. 
  • The News. 2019. 4,915 litre tainted milk disposed of. In: The News [online]. [Cited 14 January 2019]. print/418656-4-915-litre-tainted-milk-disposed-of
  • Van Boeckel T.P., Brower C., Gilbert M., Grenfell B.T., Levin S.A. & Robinson T.P. 2015. Global trends in antimicrobial use in food animals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 112(18):5649–5654. (Also available at https://doi:10.1073/pnas.1503141112). 
  • Van Boeckel, T.P., Pires, J., Silvester, R., Zhao, C., Song, J., Criscuolo, N.G, Gilbert, M., Bonhoeffer, S. & Laxminarayan, R. 2019. Global trends in antimicrobial resistance in animals in low- and middle-income countries. Science, 365:1266.
  • Xiong, X., Guardone, L., Cornax, M.J., Tinacci, L., Guidi, A., Gianfaldoni, D. & Armani, A. 2016a. DNA barcoding reveals substitution of sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) with Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides and Dissostichus mawsoni) in online market in China: How mislabeling opens door to IUU fishing. Food Control, 70:380–391. (also available at: foodcont.2016.06.010). 
  • Yam, E., Hsu, L., Yap, E. et al. 2019. Antimicrobial resistance in the Asia Pacific region: A meeting report. Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control 8: 202 [online]. 
  • Zhou, X., Taylor, M.P., Salouros, H. & Prasad, S. 2018. Authenticity and geographic origin of global honeys determined using carbon isotope ratios and trace elements. Scientific Report, 8, 14639. (also available at: 
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