Food Safety

Achieving optimal health and nutrition requires people to be both well-nourished and protected from foodborne hazards. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) has long recognized the importance of integrating food safety into its work.

GAIN’s definition

GAIN defines a “safe” food as a food that does not contain a contaminant or other attributes that increases the probability of poor health outcomes - in the context where it is consumed, and for the individual who consumes it. Foodborne hazards can be biological, chemical, or physical in nature and can occur at any stage along the supply chain.

Discover EatSafe programme

What is the link to nutrition, food systems and policy pathways

Food safety is a major issue across food systems in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), causing public health impacts on a scale similar to malaria and HIV/AIDS. According to WHO, unsafe food is responsible for 420,000 deaths annually, with the burden of these illnesses falling disproportionately on those living in LMICs, especially the young, elderly, and immunocompromised. Unsafe food leads to $110 billion in lost economic growth according to the World Bank.

Food Systems Pathways

Food Systems Pathways

Contaminants, which make food unsafe, can enter the food supply at various points along the value chain, and their presence is hard to detect. Like most efforts around food, safety must be a coordinated, systems-based approach to manage the risks effectively. If ignored, the proliferation of contaminated foods starts to impact other components of the food system, such as health, livelihoods, or the environment. Conversely, negative developments in other areas of the food system increase the likelihood and impacts of unsafe food.



Food safety and nutrition are closely interlinked. Foodborne disease can increase the risk of malnutrition, while malnutrition can increase susceptibility to foodborne disease. Highly nutritious foods like meat, poultry, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables are often more vulnerable to foodborne hazards. Worries about foodborne disease can impact consumer choices, especially around nutritious foods. Outbreaks linked to unsafe food can adversely impact supply chain actors and the supply of nutritious foods. These bi-directional linkages show that the best way to achieve healthier diets is through integrated programming that considers both food safety and nutrition.

Our approach (how do we act on this)

Food safety work has long been a part of what GAIN does. Recent efforts have been made to be more explicit, and strategic about this work – in recognition of food safety’s contributions to food systems.

Food safety is central to GAIN’s large-scale food fortification program, in terms of quality assurance and in building government and industry capacity to implement food safety systems, testing and risk mitigation plans.

GAIN’s supply chain interventions have provided food safety-related training, technologies and mentorship to SMEs along various supply chains. The launch of the Nourishing Foods Financing Facility (N3F) in 2024 adds important financial support to this work with SMEs.

Through the Dutch 3.0 work in Kenya, GAIN is promoting the adoption of Kenya Standard 1758 with its focus on food safety, through its ‘Vegetables for All’ program and creation of FitFood Zones (FFZs).

GAIN’s largest food safety programme is EatSafe (Evidence and Action Towards Safe, and Nutritious Food), funded by USAID under the Feed the Future initiative. The programme is generating evidence into how food safety in traditional markets can be improved, through stimulating behaviour change and creating consumer demand for safer foods. Work has been conducted in northwest Nigeria and Central Ethiopia.

GAIN has made significant contributions to national and international policy efforts. In Nigeria, GAIN has provided technical assistance in refining the draft Food Safety and Quality Bill to include specific food safety measures for traditional markets. This input helped it through the legislative process. It now awaits presidential assent.

GAIN Ethiopia is working with the federal government on the development of food safety standards in traditional markets as part of its Food Systems Transformation Pathway.

The development of food safety standards is also being supported at the global level, with GAIN’s involvement in the development of food safety guidelines for traditional markets under the Codex Committee for Food Hygiene.

Foodborne diseases are considered a neglected but tractable problem – quality data and insights help inform, and guide efforts to improve food safety. GAIN was successful in lobbying for food safety indicators to be included in the Food Systems Dashboard – there are currently 4 food safety indicators. There has also been much effort in knowledge management and mobilization around food safety, including the publishing of over 20 papers in scientific journals in the last few years.

GAIN is also generating evidence to understand the impact of food safety work. For example, GAIN India is working with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to establish ‘Safe Street Food Vendors Hubs’. In addition to helping develop the training toolkit, GAIN is evaluating the pilot project and making recommendations to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and FSSAI on the expansion of the initiative to other states. 

With food safety being a new cross-cutting theme at GAIN, three different approaches are being taken to integrate and grow the food safety portfolio.

  1. Programming: Strengthen existing food safety work in GAIN’s food system programmes while generating evidence and disseminating findings for continual improvement & greater impact.
  2. Policy and Advocacy: Advocate for improved food safety, with a focus on the informal sectors of LMICs, leveraging global guidelines and metrics, as well as supporting country policy efforts.
  3. Addressing gaps: Identify needs and develop impactful, attractive investment opportunities that address food safety gaps within the informal sector for future partnerships with donors, businesses, and governments.

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