Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA) in Food Processing

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Microbiological Risk Assessment Overview
  3. Hazard Identification (Step 1)
  4. Hazard Characterization (Step 2)
  5. Exposure Assessment (Step 3)
  6. Risk Characterization (Step 4)
  7. References

1. Introduction

Throughout food safety management standards Risk Assessment (RA) has become the core tool required to determine the scope and nature of specific food safety controls and programs. From HACCP to pest control, companies are now required to conduct an assessment of risk to support and justify their food safety management system. Yet it is widely believed that the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct such risk assessments may not exist in the majority of food businesses.

In the GFSI series of standards, recent revisions have seen the requirement for conducting risk assessment increase dramatically. How these risk assessments should be conducted and to what extent has not been highlighted leaving a wide gap for local interpretation. The value of risk assessment is generally accepted. It is a scientific and analytic process or tool that requires various factors to be assessed before deciding on the significance of a particular hazard. This has the benefit of ensuring that the resources in a food processing operation can be focused on the areas of greatest importance for food safety. However its effective use requires knowledge of the principles and practices of RA and good quality data to drive valid decisions. In the world of food safety, microbiological hazards represent the greatest risk in terms of poor consumer outcomes when an outbreak occurs. On the serious end of the scale these incidents often result in wide spread illness, hospitalizations, chronic medical conditions and deaths.

In this whitepaper we will cover the specific area of Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA) and provide workable tools to assist you in better determining the risks associated with microbiological hazards. This should drive better and more robust HACCP planning within your plant. It is not intended to address all the areas of MRA (which is a vast subject) but rather to cover the general principles and provide some workable tools for their application.

2. Microbiological Risk Assessment Overview

Those responsible for the implementation and maintenance of food safety plans in processing plants are frequently preoccupied with questions such as how best to identify hazards, how to determine whether hazards are important or significant and where to find information on hazards? In particular microbiological hazards present the most difficulty since many food safety managers with the responsibility of hazard analysis and HACCP planning are not microbiologists and when they find information on the subject may not always be in the position to interpret it correctly.

The evolution of risk based food safety systems such as HACCP have played a major role in protecting public health and underpinning our efforts in a structured and scientific way. However the practical impact on those in our industry who are required to develop these systems is significant and often characterized by what we don’t know rather than what we do. There is a documented case were a food business producing salami products decided to develop a snack version which was smaller and had a higher mass to surface area ratio. The product dried out faster, water activity fell faster and acidification was incomplete. This gave rise to favorable conditions for Salmonella growth and resulted in a market recall.