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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second The three stages to managing risk are risk assessment, the appropriate assessment of exposure based on scientific evidence to evaluate that risk. Regulations. Regulations such as maximum tolerable limits, MTL, are laid down based on risk assessment. Risk management. Risk management can be applied in two ways - government enforcement and surveillance through government and legal actions. Alternative measures can be applied where government actions are not available. For example, public and community action can be effective. We’ll now explore these stages in more detail. Risk assessment. Scientific evidence-based risk assessment is essential to define maximum levels of exposure with no health concerns. It forms the basis of national and international food safety standards.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 second Organisations conducting risk assessment include the Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Food Additives, JECFA at international level, European Food Safety Authority, EFSA at EU level, the International Agency on Research for Cancer, IARC, conducts specific risk assessment on carcinogens. Risk assessment has four key steps. Step one, hazard identification. It is the identification of food contaminants capable of causing adverse health effects that may be present in a particular food or a group of foods. Step two, hazard characterisation. This is the quantitative, i.e., dose response, and/or qualitative evaluation of the nature of the adverse health effects associated with the food contaminant.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds For genotoxic chemicals, those that cause DNA damage and mutations, no threshold can be identified, and it should be as low as possible. For non-genotoxic chemicals, a threshold for adverse effect is identified. No Observed Adverse Effect Levels, NOAEL, is obtained by considering the most appropriate toxicity study in animals and the daily intake with an additional safety factor. Step three, exposure assessment. Exposure assessment is the qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation of the likely intake of biological, chemical, or physical agents via food as well as exposures from other sources if relevant. For example, taking consideration of food consumption levels and the contamination level of food to assess the exposure to the chemical in general and specific populations. Step four, risk characterisation.

Skip to 3 minutes and 3 seconds This is the qualitative and quantitative estimation, including attendant uncertainties of the probability of occurrence and severity of known or potential adverse health effects in a given population based on hazard identification and the characterisation and exposure assessment. Information such as this for HCA, and cancer risk can lead to policy changes or educational campaigns to try to reduce exposure. Regulations. For certain contaminants, such as aflatoxin, regulations have been set up to limit their content in food that reaches consumers. For example, internationally, the Codex Alimentarius Commission set up international standards on food based on JECFA’s scientific advice. At EU level, the European Commission set up food policies and legislation based on EFSA’s scientific advice.

Skip to 4 minutes and 3 seconds Food standard regulations, the MTLs, are set up to protect the health of consumers and to facilitate the trade of food internationally. Applying these regulations requires enforced testing or potentially contaminated crops. If levels of contamination are above the limits which have been set very low to reduce the health risk as much as possible, then the batch of crops or food must be destroyed or treated so that it does not reach human consumption at levels above MTLs. Different regions may set the allowable limit of contamination differently. The European Commission has defined the following regulations on aflatoxin. Commission regulation for aflatoxin MTL, directive aflatoxin B1 limit in feed materials, commission regulation for methods and standards.

Skip to 4 minutes and 58 seconds By 2009, the EFSA concluded that changing the maximum levels for total aflatoxins from four to eight or 10 microgram per kilogramme in almonds, hazel nuts, pistachios, and other tree nuts would have minor effects on the estimates of dietary exposure and cancer risk. The European Commission is discussing the alignment with the Codex standards. The EFSA recommendation was that the reduction of total dietary exposure to aflatoxins could be achieved by reducing the number of highly contaminated food reaching the market, reducing exposure from contaminated food sources other than almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios. Risk management. The objective of risk management is to control and reduce the risk.

Skip to 5 minutes and 48 seconds Once a risk has been identified, steps can be taken at all stages of the process of food production to check for and to reduce contamination. This can involve measures taken to reduce the contamination and regular testing to ensure that contamination is kept low. For farming and industry, this requires improving food quality, regular screening, reduce contamination from the environment and additives, and food process, quality assured, and good practise. For market, measures to reduce contamination require clear labels, regular screening, good practise. For the consumers, this requires that they understand the risk, understand measures to reduce exposure, early detection if disease develops, chemoprevention to enhance detoxifying.

Measure and control

It is impossible to completely eliminate all contaminants from our food, so what can we do to protect consumers?

Although it may not be possible to avoid all food contaminants, it is important to be aware of the levels of contamination and assess the risk associated with this exposure.

Managing exposure

Three stages to managing or controlling exposure:

  1. Risk Assessment
  2. Regulations
  3. Risk Management

By using controls, we can reduce the toxin level to an acceptable or regulation level, even if we can’t completely eliminate the toxins.

The video included in this step will look at this in more detail.

  • As a consumer (or within your current employment) what steps can you take to minimise the risks from food contaminants to you (or to others)?

Please share any comments and thoughts in the discussion area below.

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This video is from the free online course:

Tackling Global Food Safety

Queen's University Belfast