The second Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators, to take place in Bangkok, Thailand on 12 to 14 October is purely dedicated to discussion and 'will not make any recommendations.'
In order to promote 'practical and pragmatic' actions, the joint Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation secretariat said talks would focus on two issues: keeping the strengthening official food control services; and epidemio-surveillance of foodborne diseases and food safety rapid alert systems.
Food safety is an increasingly important public health issue and governments all over the world are intensifying their efforts to improve the problem.
The global incidence of foodborne disease is difficult to estimate, but WHO reports that in 2000 alone 2.1 million people died from diarrhoeal diseases. A great proportion of these cases can be attributed to contamination of food and drinking water.
In industrialised countries, the percentage of people suffering from foodborne diseases each year has been reported to be up to 30 per cent. In the US, for example, around 76 million cases of foodborne diseases, resulting in 325,000 hospitalisations and 5,000 deaths, are estimated to occur each year. In 1994, an outbreak of salmonellosis due to contaminated ice cream occurred in the US, affecting an estimated 224,000 persons.
According to reports in the New Zealand press this week, New Zealand's food-poisoning rate is the highest in the developed world.
The number of cases of campylobacter alone leapt by 18 per cent last year to a record 14,786 cases. Campylobacter is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria and leads to diarrhoea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever.
Doctor Rob Lake of the Institute of Environmental and Scientific Research (ESR), which compiled the figures, said the New Zealand food-poisoning rate was the highest known in any developed country, but no one knew why.