There are multiple pathways through which climate change may impact food safety, including: changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, ocean warming and acidification, and changes in contaminants’ transport pathways among others. Climate change may also affect socio-economic aspects related to food systems such as agriculture, animal production, global trade, demographics and human behavior which all influence food safety and health.
Temperature increases and changes in rainfall patterns have an impact on the persistence and patterns of occurrence of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi and the patterns of their corresponding foodborne diseases. Such changes also have an impact on microbial growth, plant and animal physiology and host susceptibility which may result in the emergence, redistribution and changes in the incidence and intensity of plant and animal diseases and pest infestations, all of which could impact foodborne diseases and zoonoses.
Extreme weather events such as floods and droughts may lead to contamination of soil, agricultural lands, water and food and animal feed with pathogens, chemicals and other hazardous substances, originating from sewage, agriculture and industrial settings.
Emergency situations after natural disasters are of special concern for water and food sanitation.
Ocean warming and climate change, related acidification and changes in ocean salinity and precipitation, also affect the biochemical properties of water, along with water microflora, fisheries distribution, fish metabolic rates, and persistence and patterns of occurrence of pathogenic Vibrios, harmful algal blooms and chemical contaminants in fish and shellfish.
These impacts in turn have substantial public health, economic, social and environmental consequences.
PHI’s Center of Public Health and Climate Change has been collaborating with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Inter American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), and the Global Initiative for Food Systems Leadership Program from the Minnesota University to educate future food safety leaders from 34 countries in the Americas to address the impacts of Climate Change in Food Safety at a regional leadership training in Panama.
Cristina Tirado is Director of PHI’s Center for Public Health and Climate Change.