Food safety has always been an important issue, and currently it is high on the political agenda of many countries. Risk analysis has evolved over the last decade within the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). Risk analysis is now considered to be an integral part of the decision-making process of Codex. In addition to these developments in risk assessment, the 22nd Session of CAC requested FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) to convene an international advisory body on the microbiological aspects of food safety in order to address, in particular, microbiological risk assessments.
Risk assessment is one of the components of risk analysis - which can be defined as being an overall strategy for addressing risk - that also includes risk management and risk communication.
The risk assessment process is a means of providing an estimate of the probability and severity of illness attributable to a particular pathogen-commodity combination.
As well as as a tool that can be used in the management of the risks posed by food-borne pathogens, risk assessment can also be used to justify the introduction of more stringent standards for imported foods. Information, frameworks and tools, which are applicable to microbiological risk assessment the world over can be collected or elaborated and centralised. Undertaking microbiological risk assessment at the international level enables the identification of areas which are similar or common to a particular region or even to all countries.
It enables the identification of available data on a global scale and equally important the areas where knowledge and data are lacking. Undertaking this work at the international level results in the provision of valuable information on particular pathogen-commodity combination for use by risk managers at both the national and international levels. It is important to recognise that risk assessment at the international level is substantially different from risk assessment at the national level. Since the Uruguay Round Trade Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) entered into force in 1995, the importance of risk analysis has increased.
FAO and WHO subsequently convened a series of three expert consultations to address the three components of Risk analysis: risk assessment, risk management and risk communication.

It delineated the basic terminology and principles of risk assessment and concluded that the analysis of risks associated with microbiological hazards presents unique challenges. CAC has adopted definitions of risk analysis terms related to food safety and statements of principle relating to the role of food safety risk assessment. In response to this and as follow-up on their previous activities in the area of risk analysis, FAO and WHO convened an expert consultation in March 1999 to examine the issue of microbiological risk assessment (MRA) in an international forum. The importance of an overlap between these three elements (risk assessment, risk management and risk communication) is well recognized, but some functional separation is also necessary. The four-step process enables this to be carried out in a systematic manner, but the extent to which the steps are carried out will be dependent on the scope of the risk assessment. While MRA is becoming an important tool for assessing the risks to human health from food-borne pathogens and can be used in the elaboration of standards for food in international trade, it is not within the capacity of many, perhaps even most, countries to carry out a complete quantitative MRA. A knowledge of MRA is therefore also important for both health and economic purposes, and there is a need to provide countries with the tools for understanding and, if possible, carrying out MRA. This facilitates both the distribution and accessibility of the technology and related information. It cannot consider the situation in all countries and therefore tends to be more generic in nature and cannot capture local scenarios and country to country variations e.g. Ultimately, international work is very dependant on national and regional expertise and data. More than ever before, there is strong consumer awareness of food quality and safety, and this continues to increase.
Furthermore, in 1999, it adopted the Principles and Guidelines for the Conduct of Microbiological Risk Assessment. The main outcome of this expert consultation was an outline strategy and mechanism for addressing MRA at the international level. In relation to risk assessment, such separation ensures that issues are addressed in a transparent manner using a scientific basis.

This can be defined clearly by the risk manager through ongoing dialogue with the risk assessor.
This need, combined with CAC's and CCFH's requests for scientific advice on MRA, has led FAO and WHO to undertake a programme of activities to address the issue of MRA at the international level. New risks and challenges are emerging as a result of changes in the methods of food production at the farm and processing levels. These were developed by the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH), which is currently developing Principles and Guidelines for the Conduct of Microbiological Risk Management.
It identified 21 pathogen-commodity combinations of concern and prioritized these according to such criteria as the significance of the public health problem, the extent of the problem in relation to geographic distribution and international trade and the availability of data and other information with which to conduct a risk assessment. Consumption patterns and consumer demands regarding such issues as the variety and shelf-life of foods, as well as the preservation techniques used, are changing.
CCFH suggested that FAO and WHO convene ad hoc expert consultations to provide advice on MRA, and also recommended that these consultations be conducted according to the format outlined at the 1999 expert consultation.
International trade in food has also increased the risk of infectious agents being disseminated from the original point of production to locations thousands of kilometres away.
The consequence of this is that there is an increased risk to human health as well as implications for international trade in food and ultimately the food producers. This involves looking into all parts of the food chain and linking this with the human health outcome. However the implementation of such a holistic approach to food safety is not necessarily an easy one as it requires the expertise, interaction and collaboration of a wide range of people of many different backgrounds and professions.
The development of the risk analysis process has however provided us with a tool to make this possible.

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