Introduction And Definition Of Issues

Hazard characterization with respect to foods began as a means to help prioritize risks and categorize hazards. Over time, hazard characterization has broadened in scope, as the criteria used to evaluate hazards have increased in number and breadth. Today, characterization of hazards is more important than ever in developing food safety control programs. The use of categorization is of lesser importance as susceptibility of the population to the hazards becomes greater. The WHO (1995) described hazard characterization as the qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the nature of the adverse effects associated with biological, chemical, and physical agents that may be present in foods.

Van Schothorst (1998) suggested that hazard characterization might be better termed "impact characterization." The impact can vary from mild (simple acute diarrhea) to severe (chronic illness or death), depending largely on the susceptibility of the person exposed. To accommodate the many assumptions associated with impact characterizations, a worst-case scenario often is used to estimate the risk presented by a particular pathogen in a specific food. Van Schothorst points out that assumptions and uncertainties of hazard characterization ultimately can lead to an unreliable risk assessment, as well as credibility and liability problems.

The National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) (1997) defined a hazard as a "biological, chemical, or physical agent that is reasonably likely to cause illness or injury in the absence of its control." Microbial pathogens are the most common biological hazards, and they can cause infections (growth of the disease-causing microorganism) and intoxications (illness caused by preformed toxin produced by a micro organism). Scott (1999) has detailed the characteristics of numerous common microbial hazards and described the factors that affect the risk of illness from the hazards.

Chemical hazards include agricultural compounds such as pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones; industrial chemicals such as cleaners and sani-tizers; and equipment-related compounds such as oils, gasoline, and lubricants. Other chemical hazards include naturally occurring toxicants such as myco-toxins, environmental contaminants such as lead and mercury, and chemical preservatives and allergens.

Physical hazards include glass, wood, plastic, stones, metal, and bones. The introduction of physical hazards has been characterized as inadvertent contamination from growing, harvesting, processing, and handling; intentional sabotage or tampering; and chance contamination during distribution and storage (Corlett, 1998).

0 0

Post a comment