Quantitative microbiological risk assessment is intended to answer specific questions of importance to public health. For microbiological risk assessment to deliver benefits it needs to be purposefully incorporated into the decision making process. This implies a change in the way nations approach food safety and public health decisions. The novelty of microbiological risk assessment is that it quantifies the hazard throughout the food production chain and directly links this to the probability of food-borne disease. The risk assessments of Salmonella in eggs and broiler chickens present an example of the potential of this approach.
The increased use of microbiological risk assessment will result in new capacity building needs. The exercise of producing this risk assessments has been a learning experience and since it is comprehensive, it can also provide a basis for future training efforts and applied research. These risk assessments are a resource that can be used by many parties including the Codex Alimentarius and national authorities. Ensuring their applicability and utility to all regions and countries is a priority for future work in FAO and WHO.
An important prerequisite for microbiological risk assessment is the need for an interdisciplinary approach. There is a dual need to develop the capacity for microbiological risk assessment skills and expertise within all the relevant disciplines (microbiology, modelling, epidemiology, etc.) and to ensure that these disciplines become effectively integrated into the risk assessment process. Transparency must be maintained throughout the risk assessment process from the initial stages of building the risk assessment team, to data collection and analysis.
This exercise in conducting risk assessment at the international level has underlined the need for data to be acquired from all regions and for the development of countries capacities to conduct risk assessments. The development of these capacities requires an infrastructure for the surveillance of food-borne disease and the monitoring of microbial hazards in foods throughout the food-chain and the effect of processing and other factors on the micro-organism. It also requires human resources with the technical skills needed to conduct microbiological risk assessment.
There is a considerable amount of useful information made available through these risk assessments for both risk assessors and risk managers. The concepts presented are generic, and may be directly adaptable or considered as stand-alone modules. For those planning to undertake a quantitative microbiological risk assessment the models developed can be used as a template for undertaking risk assessment for these pathogen-commodity combinations at regional or national levels. The data used in the models, however, must reflect the food item, raw material, manufacture, retail conditions, and consumption habits as well as the characteristics of the population within the region under consideration.
These Salmonella risk assessments provide information that may be useful in determining the impact that intervention strategies have on reducing cases of salmonellosis from contaminated eggs and poultry. This information is of particular interest to the Codex Alimentarius in their work on the elaboration of standards, guidelines and related texts. Furthermore, in undertaking this work a number of lessons were learned with regard to making optimal use of risk assessment as a decision support tool. In order to meet the needs of risk managers, the risk assessment must be clearly focussed. This can be achieved by adequate planning, good communication and a strong interface between the risk assessors and the risk managers. To ensure that risk assessment contributes to management decisions that can be successfully implemented, there needs to be communication from the outset with other relevant stakeholders such as the food industry and consumers.
In conclusion, the risk assessments provide an example of a format for organising the available information in a readable way, and connecting pathogen contamination problems in food with human health outcomes. They provide scientific advice and analysis that may be useful for establishing regulatory policies for control of foodborne disease in different countries. In addition, the risk assessment process has identified important data gaps, and includes recommendations for future research, which can be used to allocate resources to priority areas.
These are the first microbiological risk assessments to be undertaken at the international level. During the course of the work it was recognized that MRA is still a developing science, yet, every effort has been made to provide a valuable and unique resource for those undertaking risk assessments and addressing the problems associated with Salmonella in eggs and broiler chickens.