“Maybe I just ate something gone bad.” We’ve all said it when our stomachs or guts start to rebel. No big deal.

Maybe not. Because processing, shipment and trade of food products have gone global, a tainted ingredient can be widely distributed, reach thousands of consumers and cause illness — even death. Industries and retailers can experience costly disruptions during a scramble to sweep a product from the shelves.

Industrialized food production and globalized distribution “introduce multiple new opportunities for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals,” said World Health Organization (WHO) leader Dr. Margaret Chan.

“From farm to plate, make food safe” is the advice WHO offers on World Health Day, April 7.

tomatoes, cucumbers in market bin
E. coli infection of vegetables has caused illness and market upheaval in several European countries. (AP Images)

Nasty bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances find their way into food to cause more than 200 diseases, from diarrhea to cancers, WHO reports.

“A local food safety problem can rapidly become an international emergency,” Chan said, when an illness is traced to a foodstuff containing ingredients with origins in multiple countries, for example.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also is working to raise consumer awareness of food safety on World Health Day. The agency is introducing new resources for consumers to learn best practices for food storage and get answers to questions about specific products. Among them:

  • Foodkeeper, an iOS/Android app that provides advice and cautions about proper storage practices for more than 400 food and beverage items. [Downloads are available at the iTunes and Google Play stores.]

  • The Foodsafety.gov website offers food safety practices with additional breaking news information about the latest warnings and food product recalls.

  • Recipes for Disaster, a video series on food safety practices.
Hundreds of millions of contaminated eggs were yanked from market shelves during a U.S. scare. (AP Images)

USDA’s Food Waste Challenge also promotes better food storage practices to reduce food wastage and spoilage. It has helped farms, agricultural processors, food manufacturers, stores, restaurants, schools and local governments step up their efforts to prevent food waste. The challenge also improves connections between producers and retailers who might have excess food to donate to hunger relief programs.