Food is the fuel that powers the human body and mind. Indeed, it is believed that food is so important that "the discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star" - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Food is any substance, usually of plant or animal origin that is comprised predominantly of carbohydrates, fats, water and proteins, and which can be eaten or drunk by an animal for nutrition or pleasure. Food, or the lack thereof, determines the extent of survival of both plants and animals.

Hence, our reliance on food dictates that a lot of thought be given to its preparation. While some foods are edible when raw, the majority must undergo some form of preparation for reasons of palatability and most importantly, safety. Food Safety denotes the scientific discipline describing the handling, preparation and storage of food in ways that prevent food borne illnesses. Foods can transmit diseases among persons and also serve as a growth medium for disease-causing organisms that cause food poisoning.

Food borne illness, commonly referred to as 'food poisoning' results from bacteria, viruses ,parasites (all of which are pathogenic agents) and toxins. According to www. wikipedia. com/foodsafety, approximately seven million people die of food poisoning each year with about ten times as many suffering from a non-fatal version. The two most common factors that result in cases of bacterial food borne illnesses are a cross-contamination of ready-made meals from other uncooked foods and improper temperature control.

Both factors mainly results from poor food preparation and storage practices. Also, food can be adulterated by a wide range of foreign bodies during farming, manufacture, cooking, packaging and distribution. These foreign bodies may include pests or their excretions, hairs - from pets especially, and other various contaminants. In modern times, rapid globalization of food production and trade have increased the possibility of food contamination.

Many outbreaks of food borne diseases that were once contained within a small community may now occur globally. It was reported in year 2000, that about 2. 1 million people died from diarrhoeal diseases, as a result of food and water contamination. The delay between consumption of contaminated food and the appearance of the first symptom of illness - the incubation period, ranges from hours to days, depending on the agent and the amount of contaminated food consumed.

Symptoms vary as they depend mainly on the causative agent. The most common bacterial food borne pathogens include Salmonella, which usually results from the consumption of inadequately cooked chicken and eggs, and also Enterohemorrhagic (EHEC), which causes haemolytic-uremic syndrome. Other pathogenic agents such as parasites are also a major cause of food poisoning. Most food borne parasites are referred to as zoonoses and the most common are tapeworms and roundworms.

Several foods that originate from plants and animals contain natural toxins which are not produced by bacteria, but instead, serve as a defence mechanism against predators. For example, certain types of mushrooms and shell fish can cause food poisoning and even death. Food is life, and due to the serious health risks that can arise from the poor handling of food, many developed countries worldwide, including the Caribbean, have established regulatory agencies such as the Bureau of Standards and World Health Organization Food Safety Department, which have intricate standards for food preparation.

The mandate of these regulatory agencies entails the provision of guidelines that will assist the public in correct food preparation and storage, promotion of good food hygiene practices, and the application of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) quality system in food production. Discovery of techniques for killing bacteria using heat and other microbiological studies by scientists such as Louis Pasteur, has contributed to the modern sanitation standards and guidelines that are utilised by these regulatory agencies.

These guidelines have become ubiquitous, appearing on billboards, and in advertisements in the media. Prevention of bacterial food poisoning is mainly the role of a government through the definition of strict rules of hygiene and a public service of veterinary surveying of animal products in the food chain, from farming to transformation and distribution. This regulation includes traceability (that is, in a final product, it must be possible to know the origin of the ingredients, and the date and location of production), enforcement of hygienic procedures and food inspection activities.

At home, prevention mainly consists of good food safety practices. Many form of bacterial poisoning can be prevented even if food is contaminated, by heating sufficiently (cooking until the core temperature is 75i?? c or more to ensure that harmful bacteria are destroyed), and either eating it quickly or refrigerating it effectively. The correct storage of food for human consumption, will also prevent or reduce food poisoning. Grains should be stored in air- tight containers to prevent vermin and moisture from entering and meats and sea food should be stored in a cold room or refrigerator or may be 'cured' or dried.

Proper hygiene, such as washing hands before preparing food and preparing food in a clean environment also aids in the reduction of food borne diseases. Food Safety is an important practice that should be exercised by every individual, for in the long run it reduces the financial strain on the health sector and also aids in the saving of lives through proper food preparation and hygiene. Therefore an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.