Sécurité sanitaire et qualité des aliments

How to rank foodborne hazards in terms of risk to public health


When allocations of human or financial resources are limited, national authorities are hard pressed to efficiently address all food safety threats. Not to mention, the threats are changing on a regular basis. But knowing the likelihood and severity of the adverse impact that current foodborne hazards could have on the health of a target population facilitates objective, evidence-based, transparent decision-making and planning. That means there is a need for a systematic approach.

To facilitate the process, the FAO guide to ranking food safety risks at the national level has been produced and made available online today. “The objective of this guide is to provide direction to decision-makers on how to start ranking the public health risk posed by foodborne hazards and/or foods in their countries,” the publication states. While the focus is on microbial and chemical hazards in foods, the approach explained in the guide could be used for any hazard.

Ranking risk this way provides national food safety authorities with the scientific basis to:

  • make informed regulatory decisions
  • enhance disease surveillance
  • determine how food inspections are allocated
  • oversee inspection and enforcement of food safety efforts
  • inform the public of food safety threats and
  • continue to improve the safety of the foods produced and consumed in the country.

The guidance document walks readers through three iterative steps:

  1. Define the scope – which includes defining the purpose, selecting what will be ranked and screening foods and/or hazards for overall relevance and risk potential;
  2. Develop the approach – which includes selecting the risk ranking method, selecting the metrics for ranking risks and collecting and evaluating the appropriateness of data; and
  3. Conduct the risk ranking analysis and report results.

A series of tables, examples, questions and flowcharts are included to render each step more clear while two hypothetical case studies illustrate how this risk-ranking approach can be used.

In addition to risk managers, the publication will be interest of interest to microbiologists, toxicologists, chemists, environmental health scientists, public health epidemiologists, risk analysts and other policy makers.

Download the publication here

Related publication: Food safety risk management – Evidence-informed policies and decisions, considering multiple factors

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