The World Health Organization (WHO) has published guidance to help national authorities design and implement risk-based food inspection systems.

Risk-based inspection aims to use resources more efficiently and modernize systems through a scientific and risk-based approach focused on food products and businesses that pose the highest risk to consumer health. It provides opportunities to build systems to prevent food safety incidents by identifying risk factors and assessing the effectiveness of control measures.

Inspections ensure that food businesses implement appropriate processes, collect evidence, and verify compliance with standards to ensure what they produce is safe. Many countries face a lack of resources to inspect food factories.

The Western Pacific region has an estimated 125 million foodborne disease cases and more than 50,000 deaths yearly, based on the most recent figures published in 2015.

Moving to risk-based systems
The document, with examples and case studies, covers understanding risk prioritization tools to categorize the risk of food and establishments and how to estimate inspection frequency. As risks in food processing are particular to each country and supply chain and the characteristics of producing establishments, the guidance can be adapted to suit the country’s needs.

The first step in designing a risk-based inspection system is to decide on the scope, and the second is to collect information on food establishments and the products they make. This could involve pilots in specific sectors. Then, foods and businesses need to be categorized by risk before inspection frequencies are assigned. Raw meat, fish, oysters, poultry, and milk are high-risk foods.

One of the main risk factors in evaluating establishments is the size and volume of production. It is also essential to keep records of previous inspections to enable follow-up of issues.

Communication should be established with industry and other actors in the supply chain to explain the new model and establish a staggered implementation schedule. Once the system is in place, reviews must be carried out to improve, adapt, and correct aspects of the model.

Once inspection results are obtained for the period considered, risk scores must be analyzed to assess the performance of each establishment and the situation of the sector or production chain to set new inspection objectives and reformulate controls. Sites with a higher risk score should be subject to more inspections in the following year.

“The keys to a successful risk-based inspection system start with political commitment and an adequate regulatory framework to support the process, designing the model based on the collection of adequate and relevant information, and periodically subjecting the model to a process of adjustment to allow for continuous improvement of the system.”

WHO EU AMR focus
Meanwhile, WHO Europe has renewed its cooperation with the Collaborating Centre for Antimicrobial Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens and Genomics at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

The aim is to strengthen understanding and response to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in food. Conducting surveillance on resistant pathogens helps scientists understand where they started, what they are resistant to and how they are spreading.

AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites no longer respond to medicines, making infections more challenging to treat. Resistant pathogens can spread to people via contamination during the slaughter and processing of animals for meat, contaminated fruits and vegetables, and unsanitary or inadequate food preparation.

Work has included the development of laboratory protocols and guidance and training to strengthen countries’ surveillance and response systems for foodborne diseases and AMR.

Using existing foodborne disease surveillance methods and whole genome sequencing enables scientists to more accurately determine the source and transmission of pathogens and learn about the genes and mutations causing resistance to antimicrobial medicines.

Dr. Danilo Lo Fo Wong, WHO Europe’s regional adviser for control of AMR, said the burden of AMR in foodborne disease was a growing threat.

“Strong partnerships with collaborating centers like the DTU National Food Institute are vital, giving WHO the evidence to guide member states in making policies and formulating strategies to control AMR in foodborne diseases. The DTU National Food Institute also makes a valued contribution towards building capacity to improve surveillance in countries.”

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