Food safety risk analysis has historically been considered a decision tool that is encouraged and supported both domestically and internationally.
The application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade promote the use of risk analysis. The Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization jointly recommend that the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international food standards organization, incorporate the use of risk analysis principles in its decision making. The North American Free Trade Agreement and other regional trade agreements also support the use of risk analysis.
As practical application and experience build under each of these agreements, world trade will depend more and more on a nation’s ability to understand, conduct, and evaluate risk assessments.
The international commitment to the use of risk analysis in food safety has resulted in a great need to educate a large number of food safety and other public health professionals about risk analysis. Because the paradigm and tool are relatively new, few professionals have been afforded the opportunity to obtain any formal training in this area. Nonetheless, the need for this knowledge and these skills is great.
In the United States, the continued and growing need for risk analysis education is a serious impediment to our ability to perform the quantity and quality of risk analyses desired. Internationally, the need is even greater. Ensuring a safe domestic food supply makes the need more compelling because of the large amount of foods in international commerce. International food companies need the ability to innovate and produce new products while meeting reasonable standards for food safety around the globe.
The need exists for comprehensive food safety risk analysis education, information, and training programs that make maximum use of existing and emerging technology. There are at least three such efforts underway:
Food Safety Risk Analysis Clearinghouse (www.foodriskclearinghouse.umd.edu) is a Web-based resource designed to encourage the use of risk analysis in the development of food safety policy, provide quality risk-assessment resources to public and private-sector food safety risk analysts with a special emphasis on data and models, and increase the transparency of the risk-analysis process.
JIFSAN Professional Development Training Program in Food Safety Risk Analysis (www.jifsan.umd.edu/pro_training.htm) has been under development as a joint effort of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN). The core courses teach the fundamental approaches used in risk analysis. This level of knowledge is considered critical for all food safety professionals to allow them to understand how food safety decisions are made utilizing risk analysis; achieve fluency with use of the language and terminology of food safety risk analysis; be able to apply the systematic approaches, tools, and techniques of risk analysis to specific food safety problems; and make and apply risk-management decisions and communicate them to key constituencies, partners, customers, suppliers, government agencies, and consumers.
Food Safety Risk Analysis Distance Training Program (www.reeusda.gov/pas/programs/foodsafety/foodsafetysum01.htm#lei) at the University of Maryland just received funding under the Integrated Food Safety Program of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). The three-year grant will develop distance-learning modalities for the core courses developed under the JIFSAN Professional Development Training Program. This program seeks to utilize new and emerging information technologies to train food safety professionals in the fundamentals of risk analysis.
These three efforts hope to reenergize the food safety community by providing broad-based training and outreach to the scientific, regulatory, and policy-setting communities both inside and outside of government. While toxicological principles of risk assessment and even the Redbook paradigm have existed for many years, new players and new hazards continually arrive on the scene. Risk analysis principles are increasingly recognized for their ability to provide critical insight into problems, processes, and solutions. Only through a renewed emphasis on making information available—be it data, definitions, software, or training—will all trading partners be able to compete on an even playing field.
by Douglas L. Park is Director, Division of Natural Products, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, Washington, D.C.