Microbiological risk assessment (MRA) is a developing area of food microbiology and is likely to be increasingly used as a tool to inform risk management and communication concerning microbiological hazards in foods. Formal MRA provides a structured approach to using scientific evidence in assessing risk and principles, and guidelines for undertaking MRA have been published by Codex and EU Scientific Committees. The development of MRA is a multidisciplinary process and requires expertise and data from a wide variety of sources. Outputs from risk assessment should include the nature and degree of the risk together with the limitations and uncertainties involved in the assessment process. These models will also help identify gaps in scientific knowledge.
The scientific aims of the Programme are to:
- conduct microbiological risk assessments for the key microbiological hazards associated with the food chain;
- to put microbiological risks in the food chain into context by developing integrated approaches that take into account exposure through different pathways including food, water and the environment;
- identify new or novel approaches to microbiological risk assessment in the food chain;
- develop approaches to microbiological risk assessment which take into account uncertainty and variability; and
- identify areas of research or surveillance that will help reduce uncertainty and variability in microbiological risk assessments.
Risk analysis can be applied to microbiological food safety issues. Risk analysis comprises three components – risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. Microbiological risk assessment (MRA) is a scientific approach to estimating risk and understanding the factors that influence that risk. Risk assessment consists of four parts – hazards identification, hazard characterisation, exposure assessment and risk characterisation. MRA will quantify a hazard and its effect on the consumer.
Areas of Activity
To achieve these aims, the activities of the programme fall into a number of areas including:
- determining the risks of foodborne transmission in relation to other routes such as the environment and animals; and
- identifying the key barriers or key intervention steps within each route of transmission;
- identifying gaps within scientific data that may be reduced by targeted research and surveillance;
- identifying groups within the general population who may be at a higher risk of adverse effects if they are exposed to certain microorganisms; and
- applying risk assessment methodology to examine traits such as antimicrobial resistance.
This research will allow the Agency to improve food safety and benefit the consumer by:
- providing better information to groups within the general population in relation to risk of adverse effects if they are exposed to certain foods or microorganisms; and
- enabling consumers to be better informed about the risks of infections through different pathways of infection such as food, water and the environment.
Research in this programme includes:
- development of a risk assessment model for the different pathways of infection of Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) O157;
- microbiological risk assessment of Listeria monocytogenes in cooked meats and poultry;
- assessment, relative to other pathways, of the contribution made by the food chain to the problem of quinolone resistance in microorganisms causing human infections; and
- microbiological risk assessment for Norwalk-like Virus (norovirus) infection.