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Risk assessment of microbiological hazards in foods has been identified as a priority area of work for the CAC. At its 32nd session the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) identified a list of pathogen-commodity combinations for which it requires expert risk assessment advice. In response to this and the needs of their member countries, FAO and WHO jointly launched a programme of work with the objective of providing expert advice on risk assessment of microbiological hazards in foods (Annex 2).

Ms Maria de Lourdes Costarrica, Senior Officer, Food Quality Liaison Group, FAO and Dr Allan Hogue, Food Safety Programme, WHO provided the participants with a history of the FAO, WHO, and Codex activities on microbiological risk assessment. In their presentation they also highlighted the objectives of the current meeting.

The FAO/WHO programme of activities on microbiological risk assessment aims to serve two customers - the CAC and FAO and WHO member countries. The CAC, and in particular its subsidiary committee the CCFH, has requested sound scientific advice as a basis for the development of guidelines and recommendations for the management of risks posed by microbiological hazards in foods and have identified 21 pathogen-commodity combinations of concern (ALINORM 01/13). Member countries on the other hand need adaptable risk assessments to use in conducting their own assessments and, if possible, some modules that can be directly applicable to their national situation. Taking these needs into account FAO and WHO subsequently selected and initiated work on three pathogen-commodity combinations - Salmonella Enteritidis in eggs, Salmonella spp. in broiler chickens and L. monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods. Problems such as the lack of a clear-cut risk management question at the outset and limitations in the usefulness of a global risk estimate were recognized in the course of the work.

The risk assessments on Salmonella spp. in eggs and broiler chickens and L. monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods began in January 2000. In July 2000 an expert consultation was convened to review the hazard identification, exposure assessment and hazard characterization components of the risk assessments (FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 71 Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Risk Assessment of Microbiological Hazards in Foods, 2000). That expert consultation made recommendations for the improvement of the preliminary documents, identified knowledge gaps and information requirements needed to complete the risk assessment work, and developed a list of issues to be brought to the attention of the CCFH. The report of that consultation was presented to the 33rd session of the CCFH for further guidance on the future direction of the work. In the discussion that followed, the CCFH put forward a number of specific risk management questions related to these pathogen-commodity combinations (ALINORM 01/13A). These issues were subsequently addressed by the joint FAO/WHO expert drafting groups.

This expert consultation was the second in a two-year programme of work on risk assessment of these pathogen-commodity combinations. Through this work FAO and WHO are illustrating how to use a tool recommended by Codex in their "Principles and Guidelines for the Conduct of Microbiological Risk Assessment" (CAC/GL-30/1999). Model risk assessments that can be adapted to a country’s needs are being developed. The CCFH is being provided with scientific advice to assist it in its activities aimed at protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair practices in food trade.

This purpose of this report is to present a summary of the risk characterizations reviewed during the expert consultation, preliminary answers to the questions posed by the CCFH, and recommendations for the adaptation of these risk assessments by member countries. It will be presented to the 34th session of the CCFH in October 2001. Following a peer review and a public review, FAO and WHO will publish the complete risk assessment documents as well as their interpretative summaries for use by their member countries and the CAC.

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