Food safety

Risk assessment

Risk assessment is the scientific evaluation of known or potential adverse health effects resulting from human exposure to foodborne hazards. The process consists of the following steps:

  • Hazard identification: The identification of known or potential health effects associated with a particular agent.
  • Hazard characterization: The qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation of the nature of the adverse effects associated with biological, chemical, and physical agents which may be present in food. For chemical agents, a dose-response assessment should be performed. For biological or physical agents, a dose-response assessment should be performed if the data is obtainable.
  • Exposure assessment: The qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation of the degree of intake likely to occur.
  • Risk characterization: Integration of hazard identification, hazard characterization and exposure assessment into an estimation of the adverse effects likely to occur in a given population, including attendant uncertainties.

The definition includes quantitative risk assessment, which emphasizes reliance on numerical expressions of risk, and also qualitative expressions of risk, as well as an indication of the attendant uncertainties.

WHO has a long history of providing assessments of especially chemical risk in food to Codex and to Member States. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) are recognized as being at the forefront of scientific knowledge in assessing the risks of chemicals in food. Through the GEMS/Food programme, WHO plays a leading role in promoting the collection, collation and evaluation of data on chemicals in foods and the total diet at regional and international levels.

Now, WHO and FAO are extending the experience and expertize developed in risk analysis of chemical hazards to microbiological hazards. In response to the World Health Assembly food safety resolution in 2000 and a request from the Codex Alimentarius Commission, WHO and FAO embarked on a programme of activities with the objective of conducting risk assessments for the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene and member countries. This programme is known as the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA).

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