The use of risk assessment has gained steadily in importance and recognition as the scientifically-based approach for the development of food safety and quality standards. During recent years there has been increasing use of the word "risk" in connection with food safety, in general, and seafood safety in particular. There are statements such as "regulations must be risk-based", "a risk analysis must be done" and "we need to communicate the risk to all stakeholders".
Where has this emphasis on risk come from? Probably it is a logical extension of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) revolution that swept the industry in the 1980s and 1990s. HACCP Principle 1 states that a hazard analysis must be done. First those hazards that are likely to occur are identified, then an assessment is made of the severity of each hazard, followed by an evaluation of its likelihood to occur. These two factors (severity and likelihood) tell us about risk.
Another important drive towards risk assessment is the increase in international trade, which has raised new safety and quality challenges. Newer proactive quality and safety approaches have been developed to address the risk of cross-border transmission of infectious and hazardous agents and to deal with emerging food-borne diseases and quality problems. This has required the development of a new safety and quality regulatory framework that culminated with the entry into force, in 1995, of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) and the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Two provisions of these Agreements are of paramount importance to fish safety and quality:
National SPS and quality requirements should reflect standards agreed on in the international standards setting bodies i.e. Codex Alimentarius for food quality and safety.
Domestic standards, different from international ones, can be developed given they are scientifically based using risk assessment.
Risk assessment of microbiological hazards in foods has been identified as a priority area by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC.) At its thirty-second session in 1999, the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) identified a list of 21 pathogen-commodity combinations that require expert risk assessment advice. In response, FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) jointly launched a programme of work with the objective of providing expert advice on risk assessment of microbiological hazards in foods to their member countries and to the CAC. This involved establishing expert drafting groups to examine four priority pathogen:product pairings:
Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat food;
Salmonella in eggs and broiler chickens;
Campylobacter spp. in broiler chickens;
Vibrio spp. in seafoods.
In view of all this, risk assessment is important throughout all aspects of the seafood industry - for companies, national governments and for international regulators. It does not matter where you operate in the seafood industry, risk assessment either already is an important part of your activity, or it soon will be. It can also be an expensive exercise, but in the end it should be worth the resources mobilized.
This paper is presented in five parts:
1. The basics of risk assessment
2. How to perform risk assessments
3. How to use risk assessments
4. Risk Ranger - how to use it
5. Examples of risk assessments
In addition, there is a CD-ROM, the Resource Bank, which provides selected back-up resources if an extensive library or online facilities are not available. It also includes a spreadsheet tool, Risk Ranger, to facilitate semi-quantitative risk assessments and risk profiles.