Excerpts from the history of food safety

Monday, March 21, 2016

Author: Mária Szeitzné Szabó


1. Summary

Just as obtaining and consuming food is part of everyday human life, so have food­borne diseases been occurring regularly throughout history. Most of these sank into oblivion, however, certain events of greater importance, or ones that affected a large number of people or were memorable because of their nature, novelty or long-term effects have been included in source materials preserving our history in written form. There are references to diseases in the holy books that constitute the basis for certain religions (e.g., the Bible or the Quran), as well as detailed food preparation and eating rules aimed at preventing diseases.

Because of the rudimentary nature of scientific knowledge, sometimes it took several centuries until the cause of an epidemic disease could be determined and the mea­sures necessary for prevention could be taken. These diseases were often outbreaks of microbial origin, but toxicoses also occurred frequently, and in many cases they had serious, long-term consequences. This paper mentions several such events, for example, chronic lead poisoning that presumably played a role in the fall of the Roman Empire, or mass diseases accompanied by different syndromes caused by mold toxins.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon was not eliminated by the development of science and technology, so foodborne illnesses still occur and, because of globalization and world trade, they can reach practically any part of the world in a short time. The article also discusses the risks of industrial development and also some of the major food counter­feiting cases that occurred recently and which lead to mass diseases.


2. Introduction

The concept of food safety has become well-known over the past few decades. Unfortunate incidents, scandals and consumer concerns have been in the headlines, and this lead to the fact that sometimes we worry when consuming our everyday food, even though, in spite of these random events, it can be said that our foods have never been safer than they are today in the developed countries.

The concept itself may be new, however, diseases and risks related to foods can definitely be traced back to ancient times, one might say that humanity has been faced with foodborne diseases ever since we live on this Earth.

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