In a food context, risks involve potential impacts on consumers. Possible hazards in foods are infectious microorganisms, chemicals occurring as contaminants (e.g. cleaning compounds) or physical agents (e.g. glass). Even though efforts are taken to minimise hazards from happening, food safety can not be guaranteed 100% and hazards can occur.
Risk Assessment follows a structured approach to estimate the risk and to obtain insight in the factors that influence the risk in a positive or negative sense. A risk can be estimated in absolute terms (e.g. estimating the number of consumers getting ill per year from eating certain products) or in relative terms (e.g. comparing the safety of one product with that of another).
Risk Assessment consists of the following steps:
Hazard Identification: this step deals with the identification of agents (biological, chemical or physical) that are capable of causing an adverse health effect.
Hazard Characterisation: this step has to do with the qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation of the nature of the adverse health effects. For chemical agents, a dose-response assessment should be performed. For biological or physical agents, a dose-response assessment should be performed if the data are obtainable.
Exposure Assessment: this step deals with the qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation of the degree of intake likely to occur.
Risk Characterisation: this step integrates the information gathered in the previous 3 steps into an estimation of the adverse effects likely to happen in a certain population, including related uncertainties.
At Member State level, Risk Assessment is the responsibility of the national food safety authority. At EU level, Risk Assessment is the job of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), based in Parma, Italy.