Food safety

The interaction between assessors and managers of microbiological hazards in food, a WHO expert consultation, Kiel, Germany, 21-23 March 2000



The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have been in the forefront of the development of risk-based approaches for the management of public health risks for hazards in food. Risk analysis is well established for chemical hazards. Now, WHO and FAO are extending the experience and expertise developed from risk analysis of chemical hazards to that of microbiological hazards.

A foundation for microbiological risk assessment was established through a series of consultations held by FAO and WHO and through the documents developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Application of Risk Analysis to Food Standards Issues held in 1995 was the first in this series (3). It defined risk analysis as a process composed of three components:

  • Risk assessment - a process of systematic and objective evaluation of all available information pertaining to foodborne hazards.
  • Risk management - the process of weighing policy alternatives in the light of the results of risk assessment and, if required, selecting and implementing appropriate control options, including regulatory measures.
  • Risk communication - the interactive exchange of information and opinions concerning risks and risk management among risk assessors, risk managers, consumers, and other interested parties.

In 1997 a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Risk Management and Food Safety identified a risk management framework and the elements and general principles of food safety and risk management. It describes risk management as a continuing process of evaluation, option assessment, implementation, and monitoring & review (4). The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Application of Risk Communication to Food Standards and Safety Matters was held in 1998 and it identified elements and guiding principles of risk communication and strategies for effective risk communication (5). Risk Assessment is defined in the Codex “Principles and Guidelines for the Conduct of Microbiological Risk Assessment” (6) as a scientifically based process consisting of the following steps: i) hazard identification, ii) hazard characterization, iii) exposure assessment, and iv) risk characterization.

This document is intended to build upon the foundation for risk analysis and risk assessment established by the joint FAO and WHO Consultation Reports and the documents produced by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.