Moving from Hazard-based to Risk-based Microbial Food Safety Systems to Promote Public Health and Foster Fair Trade Practices

Center for Food Safety and Security Systems, College of Agricultural and Natural Resources, University of Maryland, United States


Foods are one of the major vehicles for the transmission of a broad range of infectious diseases. The ability to prevent these diseases is becoming more complex as the world increasingly relies on global marketplaces. National governments have agreed that the best way to prevent food-related infectious diseases is through international trade that safeguards public health while ensuring fair trade practices. However, this goal has not always been realized, in part because of the highly varied approaches to food production, processing, distribution, and marketing used throughout the world. Experts have generally agreed that the framework needed is one that is science-based, risk-based, and flexible, while still ensuring verifiable levels of control. The need to prevent foodborne infectious diseases is fostering the development of risk analysis approaches for controlling them. Great strides have been made in our ability to conduct microbial food safety risk assessments; however, equivalent gains have not been achieved in microbial food-safety risk management and risk communication. Risk management systems are in the process of moving from being hazard based to risk based, but this is hampered by our ability to define consensus international standards. Harmonization is critical both for consumer confidence and for industry, as well as for less-wealthy countries to have predictable food safety targets. One key issue is how to take risked-based approaches and adapt them to “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points” (HACCP), the primary risk-management system used by the food industry. A second is how the level of stringency can be transparently related to the level of public health protection. These key issues can be overcome by food safety policies and infrastructure investments that foster transparency, improve inter-sector data exchange, develop and quantify alternative food safety approaches, harmonize international standards, and provide objective measures of the level of control currently achieved by our food safety systems.