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Four-step plan for spotting emerging risks proposed

By Stephen Daniells , 19-Nov-2008

A simple four-part plan may lead to better early identification of emerging food safety issues, according to researchers involved in a EU-wide project.

A holistic approach, using data from within and beyond the food production chain, is necessary in the anticipation of emerging risks, according to scientists at Wageningen University and Research Centre’s Institute of Food Safety, and Britain's Institute of Food Research.

The scientists, taking part in the EU’s Safe Foods project, state that there is a need for early identification of emerging problems in the food production chain.

Writing in the journal Food Control, the scientists found that food processing professionals have concerns with various parts of the current procedures, and called for a broader range of data to be used to determine risk analysis.

The Dutch and English scientists used the Delphi survey method for collecting opinion and feedback in rounds to canvass opinion from relevant stakeholders from within the EU and from outside the EU.

“Existing early warning systems rely on the detection of a hazard in monitoring programs and therefore by definition are reactive,” wrote the authors, led by Hans Marvin. “Delphi participants indicated that more proactive system would be desirable, if feasible, since the potential risk may be prevented by issuing proper counter-actions.”

Four-step procedure

Marvin and his co-workers report that the first step should involve selecting the information sources to be used that could provide information on where and how emerging hazards may occur and should be addressed.

Step two involves generating the necessary data from these data sources, while step three involves processing information. “The process required to evaluate emerging risks and to trigger a more comprehensive risk-benefit assessment was suggested by Delphi respondents to include both risk assessors and managers,” added the scientists.

In the final step, a list of various options for follow-up actions should be highlighted, they said. Step one and four involve only experts, while two and three involved both experts and automated techniques.

“Expert advice will also be needed to interpret the outcomes of the subsequent steps in which issues will be identified and reported, in order to ‘filter’ them and ‘translate’ the data for risk managers, so that the latter can take appropriate mitigating measures,” wrote the scientists.

“This approach needs to be further refined in the future as experience accumulates with various activities on emerging issues and their early identification and prevention.”

Expect the unexpected

A Dutch project called “Emerging Risks in the Dutch Food Chain” is already developing an emerging risk detection support system (ERDSS), said the scientists

“The objective of this research is to combine expert knowledge on food production and changes in indicators in a system that will give a warning when increased risk occurs for the development of a food safety problem,” they added.

Source: Food Control
Volume 20, Issue 4, Pages 345-356
“A working procedure for identifying emerging food safety issues at an early stage: Implications for European and international risk management practices”
Authors: H.J.P. Marvin, G.A. Kleter, L.J. Frewer, S. Cope, M.T.A. Wentholt, G. Rowe

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