|Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Review 15 : Food Safety and Trade (FAO, 1995, 72 p.)|
|Risk analysis and food: The experts view|
The risks to the worlds population from hazards associated with food depend largely on the degree to which producers and official food control authorities act to prevent or minimize the risks to acceptable safe levels. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as zero risk for food (or for anything else). Consequently, analysis is needed to determine what the hazards are and to identify their immediate, interim and long-term effects on human health, Analysis is needed to establish the appropriate measures of control to prevent, reduce or minimize these risks and the best way to communicate this information to the affected population, This is the risk analysis process, which consists of three elements: risk assessment, risk management and risk communication.
The risk associated with any hazard in food can be assessed, Risk assessment is the first element in the risk analysis process. It involves four steps:
· hazard identification: identification of the hazard, the danger it presents, the impact in terms of human health and the circumstances under which it has an impact;
· hazard characterization: qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation of the adverse effects of the hazard on human health;
· exposure assessment: qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the degree of consumption or intake of the hazardous agent that is likely to occur;
· risk characterization: integration of the three prior steps into an estimate of the adverse effect likely to occur in the target population.
The entire risk assessment process requires the use of sound and scientifically derived information and the application of established scientific procedures carried out in a transparent manner. Unfortunately, sound scientific information is not always available to make the qualitative and quantitative evaluations necessary for absolute certainty about the final decision; consequently a degree of uncertainty must be factored into the decision, The degree of uncertainty can often lead to an improper or misleading decision which confuses the public and scientific experts alike.
Hazards in food can be controlled by establishing safe handling procedures and practices, food processing quality and safety assurance controls and food quality and safety standards, These standards must take into consideration the proper use of food additives at permitted levels that have been determined to be safe and scientifically determined acceptable safe limits for contaminants and agricultural chemical residues in food established using the risk assessment process. These controls, undertaken with other socio-economic and cultural considerations, make up the risk management element of the risk analysis process.
While research and scientific studies continue to provide answers needed to make informed decisions in risk analysis related to hazards in food, uncertainty and unresolved questions still cause concern to decision-makers, Only continued research and scientific study can provide the answers needed, Until these answers are available, much of the knowledge about the hazards as well as assessing and controlling the risk is based on partial information with the uncertainties factored into the analysis.
Communicating the results of the risk analysis process serves many purposes, It provides the public with the results of expert scientific review of food hazard identification and an assessment of the risks to the general population or specific target groups such as infants or the elderly, Certain people, such as those who are immunodeficient, allergic or nutritionally deficient, have a special need for information. Communication provides the private and public sectors with the information necessary for preventing, reducing or minimizing food risks to acceptably safe levels through mandatory or voluntary systems of food quality and safety management. It also provides sufficient information for the populations with the greatest level of risk with respect to any particular hazard to exercise their own options to achieve even greater levels of protection, Risk communication is the final element of the risk analysis process.