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Risk Assessment

A hazard, in general, refers to anything with the potential to cause harm in terms of human injury or ill-health and for food we must consider microbiological, chemical, physical and allergens. Whereas risk means the likelihood, great or small that an undesired event will occur due to the realisation of a hazard. Risk is also dependent on the number of people who might be exposed to the hazard.

Risk assessment is extremely important. If we can recognise the seriousness of the risk and the likelihood of it happening, then we can reduce this risk to an acceptable level. Some risks can be eliminated completely. Most risks can only be reduced to an acceptable level. Risk assessment is based on a series of numbers which fall into the low, medium, and high categories. Where risk levels are low then the business continues to operate with the control measures they have in place. Where risk levels are tolerable it is advised that the business looks to see how it can improve and what additional control measures are required.

American food safety law – Food Safety Modernisation Act, 2011 (FSMA) – place a lot of emphasis on the use of the pre-requisite programme (PRP) to control identified hazards, such as good cleaning and disinfecting practices, environmental monitoring, stringent pest control and waste management. Where risks are considered high but not critical FSMA have introduced the concept of oPRP (operational pre-requisite programme). An example of an oPRP would be in the control of allergens. Where the risk level indicates unacceptable then the business should take immediate action to address the issues. High/unacceptable risk levels can point to the presence of a CCP [critical control point].

Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene CAC/RCP 1 (1969) describes a CCP as “a step at which control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level”. CCP’s are decided by the food safety (HACCP) team using a decision tree. The process steps which are CCP’s are generally temperature related whereby temperature must be controlled to prevent bacterial growth and kill off bacteria. Metal detection and x-ray machine at the end of the line are also considered CCP’s and they are in place for physical contamination detection. BRC (2018) specify that CCP’s must be validated prior to implementation and documented evidence shows that control measures chosen and critical limited identified are capable of controlling the hazard to an acceptable level.

Risk: Temperature abuse of the cold chain

Steps: Delivery of goods, chilled and frozen storage, cooking, blast chilling and distribution of chilled/frozen foods.

The Irish Standard for catering – IS 340:2007 Hygiene in the Catering Sector – specifies the cold chain must be maintained for perishable food items. This means the temperature of chilled food must be received ≤ 5°C and maintained at that temperature thereafter. This is vital for the finished ingredient where the item is considered high risk and will not receive further processing.

Risk: Insufficent heat processing to kill vegetative pathogens

Step: Cooking

The FSAI Guidance note #20 states “At a minimum, heat processing should eliminate all vegetative pathogens, e.g. Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter jejuni, and Escherichia coli 0157:H7 in foods.

Risk: Time and temperature abuse

Step: Blast chilling

The FSAI Guidance note #20 states “The chilling process should achieve a target temperature in a specified time in the food during every chilling treatment. This will ensure that the food, if consumed within its shelf-life, and not exposed to contamination or temperature abuse during storage, will not endanger the health of the consumer”.

Risk: detection of physical contamination of product during the process

Step: Metal/x-ray detection

Manufacturers will ensure that product going to the market is tested using a metal detector and/or an x-ray machine which will detect all metal and other contaminants such as bone, cartilage, glass, hard plastics etc. The x-ray machine has sensitivity to detect metal as small as 0.3mm stainless steel and will accurately inspect through metal and foil containers using shielding technology. The machine will automatically reject suspect product from production flow and will also save a scanned product image which boosts traceability.

The food business operator (FBO) has a legal obligation to ensure the food s/he handles is safe for human consumption. This is all the more important if the food is high risk and ready to eat. Being aware of the hazards and the risks involved and working to the required control measures will ensure food will be as safe as possible going to the customer.

Article submitted by Lorraine Oman   

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