Food safety

About microbiological risk assessment (MRA) in food

Why is MRA in food necessary?

Foodborne illness caused by microorganisms is a large and growing public health problem. We believe the burden of foodborne disease must be reduced by implementing appropriate risk mitigation strategies. The need of integrated approach to food safety, involving all relevant parties is recognized.

To design public health policies and identify appropriate food safety measures in order to reduce the burden of foodborne diseases, data from foodborne disease surveillance need to be analyzed together with data from food monitoring systems.

The microbiological risk assessment framework provides a structured and scientific approach to evaluating the complex issues associated with food hygiene and foodborne diseases. The overall objective of risk assessment is to provide estimates on the probability of disease occurrence using a well structured approach based on four steps: hazard identification, hazard characterization (dose-response), exposure assessment and risk characterization.

The report of a joint FAO/WHO consultation on risk management and food safety concluded that the work of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene would benefit from advice from an expert body on foodborne microbiological hazards for purposes of risk management. The report suggests that such a committee of experts could provide scientific advice on microbiological risk assessment similar to that provided by JECFA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) and JMPR (Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues) on food additives, contaminants, veterinary drug residues and pesticide residues.

The 22nd Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1997 suggested the establishment of a joint FAO/WHO expert group to conduct risk assessment on microbiological hazards. The Codex Executive Committee (Rome, 3-5 June 1998) placed particular emphasis on the need for prompt action to establish a scientific advisory body on the microbiological aspects of food safety, particularly on microbiological risk assessments. The Executive Committee called for input from the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene and from member governments for a clear definition of the terms of reference of the expert group

The World Health Organization (WHO), in May 2000 adopted a resolution calling upon WHO and its Member States to recognize food safety as an essential public health function (WHO, 2000a). The resolution also called for the development of systems to enable a reduction of the burden of foodborne disease, and, specifically to support the establishment of an expert advisory body on Microbiological Risk Assessment.

The JEMRA (Joint Expert Meeting on Microbiological Risk Assessment) is the vehicle established by FAO and WHO for the provision of expert advice on microbiological food safety risk assessment. To date, the JEMRA takes the form of a series of meetings of experts. It reviews and interprets existing microbiological risk assessments on a number of pathogen/commodities combinations identified, and evaluate the likely impact of different risk management options.

In addition, the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures requires World Trade Organization Members to conduct science-based risk assessments, in setting limits for health risks in foods.