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The emerging world trading system is committed to transparent rules relating to food safety and quality based on the principle of equivalence and a scientific approach. This is particularly important for fish and fishery products, which today are more internationally traded than any other food product.

Whereas the concept of risk and food safety has been around for some time, it was the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which came into effect in 1995 and set the stage for a risk approach to food control measures. It states that safety and quality rules should, where possible, reflect international standards, such as those of the Codex Alimentarius, but different national standards can be applied as long as they are scientifically based using risk assessment.

The risk approach to food safety embraces the fact that whereas carefully designed preventive systems, such as HACCP, can produce safe foods, complete safety cannot always be guaranteed at all times for all people. Therefore, communicating the risk associated with consumption of different foods becomes of prime importance.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) has identified microbiological risk assessment for foods as a priority. Subsequently, the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) has identified 21 pathogen-product pairs for which it requires expert advice based on risk assessment. Of particular relevance for fishery products are risk assessments for Vibrio spp. in seafoods and Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods - both of which are now near completion.

The Fishery Industries Division of FAO takes pride in helping the fish industry in developing countries to build capacity related to fish safety and quality with a focus on practical approaches. This publication explains the basics of microbiological and chemical risk assessment for seafoods to help "demystify" the area of risk assessment. It should primarily be seen as a working tool that allows for systematic ranking of the risks associated with different product categories - thus allowing for a more focused approach to producing safe aquatic foods. It has been widely used in Australia to profile entire segments of the food industry.

Grímur Valdimarsson
Fishery Industries Division
FAO Fisheries Department

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