Principles and guidelines for incorporating microbiological risk assessment in the development of food safety standards, guidelines and related texts, a joint FAO/WHO consultation, Kiel, Germany, 18 - 22 March 2002
ISBN: 92 5 104845 2
Background (from report)
The spectrum and prevalence of hazards in the food-chain is subject to constant change. Furthermore, better monitoring and surveillance in recent years has led to a better understanding of the critical importance of microbiological pathogens. Some of the pathogens that are of concern today were not even recognized as causes of foodborne illness just 20 years ago.
The application of HACCP and risk assessment concepts in recent years are leading to fundamental changes in the approach to food safety. Governments in a number of countries are now undertaking quantitative risk assessments for specific microbiological hazards in the food supply, with the intention that the outputs of these risk assessments will be used in the development of food safety measures at the national level. Internationally, FAO and WHO have embarked on a series of Joint Expert Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA) that represent an extensive and on-going scientific commitment to risk assessment. The Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) is currently considering the preliminary results of risk assessments of Salmonella spp. in eggs and broiler chickens and Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat (RTE) foods. In further addressing the requests of the committee, quantitative risk assessments on Campylobacter spp. in broiler chickens and Vibrio spp. in seafood are currently underway.
Microbiological risk assessment (MRA) is resource-intensive in terms of scientific input and time, and effective incorporation of MRA in the development of food safety standards requires systematic and transparent application of a framework for managing foodborne hazards. The provisions and obligations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) that apply to safety measures for foods in trade are an additional incentive for MRA to be used in a systematic and transparent manner.
Generic frameworks for managing food-borne risks have recently been described by FAO/WHO, Codex and national governments. The four components of such frameworks can be summarized as follows:
- Preliminary risk management activities comprise the initial process. It includes the establishment of a risk profile to facilitate consideration of the issue within a particular context, and provides as much information as possible to guide further action. As a result of this process, the risk manager may commission a risk assessment as an independent scientific process to inform decision-making.
- Evaluation of risk management options is the weighing of available options for managing a food safety issue in light of scientific information on risks and other factors, and may include reaching a decision on an appropriate level of consumer protection. Optimization of food control measures in terms of their efficiency, effectiveness, technological feasibility and practicality at selected points throughout the food-chain is an important goal. A cost-benefit analysis could be performed at this stage.
- Implementation of the risk management decision will usually involve regulatory food safety measures, which may include the use of HACCP. Flexibility in the choice of individual measures applied by industry is a desirable element, as long as the overall programme can be objectively shown to achieve the stated goals. On-going verification of the application of food safety measures is essential.
- Monitoring and review is the gathering and analysing of data so as to give an overview of food safety and consumer health. Monitoring of contaminants in food and foodborne disease surveillance should identify new food safety problems as they emerge. Where there is evidence that required public health goals are not being achieved, redesign of food safety measures will be needed.