Iraq | Programme areas | Food safety

Food safety

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An image of five keys representing the five keys to food safetyFood safety is becoming an increasingly important public health issue. The Ministry of Health of Iraq is intensifying efforts to improve food safety. These efforts are in response to an increasing number of food safety problems and rising consumer concerns.

Decades of war, coupled with sanctions and the March/April 2003 armed conflict, have left the Iraqi food safety infrastructure in a state of despair. Some of the key components of that infrastructure, including the food control laboratory networks, are needed to ensure that food supplies imported or locally produced are fit for human consumption. The 2003–2004 countrywide needs assessments in selected food manufacturing factories, food handling facilities, food markets and key hospitals revealed that much of the food safety infrastructure and food control laboratories required physical and functional upgrading. Food control systems were fragmented and required coordination, while guidelines on foodborne disease surveillance and good practices were lacking.

Foodborne illnesses are defined as diseases, usually either infectious or toxic in nature, caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food, and are widespread and represent a growing public health problem, both in developed and developing countries.

Unsafe food causes many acute and life-long diseases, ranging from diarrhoeal diseases to various forms of cancer. WHO estimates that foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases taken together kill about 2.2 million people annually, 1.9 million of whom are children.

Foodborne diseases and threats to food safety constitute a growing public health problem and WHO's mission is to provide technical support to Member States in strengthening programmes to improve food safety from production to final consumption.

WHO has identified the need to communicate a simple global health message, rooted in scientific evidence, to educate all types of food handlers, including ordinary consumers. The fve keys to safer food message is a global health message which explains the basic principles that each individual should know to ensure safe food handling practices and prevent foodborne diseases. The five keys and associated training materials were developed to provide countries with materials that are easy to use, reproduce and adapt to different target audiences.

Five keys to safer food

The five keys to safer food are:

Keep clean
Separate raw and cooked food
Cook thoroughly
Keep food at safe temperatures
Use safe water and raw materials when preparing food.

A national strategy for food safety in Iraq and a plan of action for the short and long term were developed in July 2004. Since then, substantial progress has been made in implementing some of the key components of the national strategy through strengthening food safety control/quality assurance and the development of human resources. Moving towards a comprehensive food safety programme, WHO with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and UNIDO finalized, in 2006, the development of a US$ 6.5 million project funded through the UNDG Iraq Trust Fund (EC) to support three line Ministries (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Industry) in developing the capacity of the food processing industry in Iraq.


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Key health-related statistics

Total population (000s) 37 140
Total health expenditure on health (% of general government expenditure) 6.5
Maternal mortality ratio (per 100 000 live births) 50
Number of primary health care units and centres (per 10 000 population) 0.7
Total life expectancy at birth (years) 69.8

Source: Framework for health information systems and core indicators for monitoring health situation and health system performance, 2018

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