Microbiological risk assessment aims at determining the likelihood and severity of biological agents harmful to the health of the consumer, such as bacteria, viruses or protozoa that spread through food. The risk factors affecting the spread and prevalence of the biological agents and the importance of the transmission routes on the magnitude of the risk, and the effect of different means of risk management are often assessed at the same time. The risk assessment comprises the formation of risk along the whole food production chain from the production of raw materials all the way to the exposure of the consumer. Often however, the assessment is targeted at one specific part of the chain, for example a part that is important for the decision-making.
Microbiological risk assessments are often carried out by assessing the magnitude of a risk caused by a specific biological hazard in a specific food item or food group. Assessments can also be carried out on a larger scale so that the magnitude of a risk caused by a specific biological hazard, to which the consumer is exposed from different sources, is assessed. The starting point of the risk assessment can also be the risk to the consumer caused by the possible presence of several biological hazards in a specific food item or food group.
With the help of information gained from risk assessment, monitoring and control systems and procedures in order to reduce the risk can be created, studied and developed.
Based on the risk assessment results from extensive research, it is possible for example to highlight and prioritise those levels and points in the production chain that are of highest significance for the formation of a risk and the risk management of which most efficiently reduces the risk to the consumer. In addition, based on risk assessments carried out using the same principles, different risks and the causes of the risks can be compared and assessed interrelatedly. Based on the results, the significance of different foodstuffs to the total risk can be assessed.
In order to develop risk based, comprehensive control and self-checking procedures we need risk assessments, with the help of which measurable intermediate goals can be set, such as for example limits, in order to achieve the jointly approved goals for food safety. Regional, productional, environmental and demographic differences that affect the development of a risk may be very large even within Europe, which is why the significance of national risk assessments will be important even in the future. Methods of risk assessment and mathematical models have been developed and are also being developed by way of international co-operation and are published with the results in scientific peer-reviewed publications. Completed methods and models can be utilised for new risk assessments if they include similar structures and information. Risk assessment methods are thus developed anticipatorily and are to be sufficiently universal and applicable also to future needs.