Microbial Risk Assessment as a Foundation for Informed Decision-Making

Principal Investigator - Mansel Griffiths, Director for Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety, University of Guelph , 2001 - 2004

Microbial Risk Assessment as a Foundation for Informed Decision-Making

Challenge

Governments and international agencies are increasingly relying on risk assessments for decision-making in public health protection, international trade, resource allocation, and prioritization of research efforts, among others. Food and water safety in particular have witnessed increasing use and discussion of risk assessment, largely driven by legislative mandates, accountability and external scrutiny, scientific concerns and trade obligations. However, risk assessment in microbial food and water safety, at the time of the project, was a relatively new discipline, and thus remained poorly understood and under-utilized by risk managers, the scientific community, and research funding agencies. The purpose of this project was to review current research activities to assess the role of risk assessment in research formulation, the collection of scientific data, and the uptake of this information into action.

Project

Using a Needs, Gaps, and Opportunities Assessment, the research team evaluated the current status of Canadian research activities related to risk assessment of pathogens in food and water.  Applications towards mitigation strategies, research directions and decision-making were considered for each of the reviewed risk assessment activities.  Focusing on two components of risk assessment that rely heavily on scientific data, the project considered: i) exposure assessment, in order to highlight current approaches and expert groups for the purpose of collaboration, and ii) hazard characterization, to develop quantitative links between exposure and health outcomes.

The research team concluded that effective and routine applications of microbial risk assessment to inform decision-making requires the achievement of specific objectives. These include:

  • Consistent quality in risk assessments
  • A prioritization process for microbial risk decision-making
  • Incorporation of risk assessment to inform targeted research decisions
  • An ability to rapidly assess the impact of new evidence on decision-making and policy
  • Effective interaction between risk assessors, decision-makers and stakeholders to increase trust and credibility in risk assessment and risk management

Outputs

  • Microbial Risk Assessment as a Foundation for Informed Decision Making: An expert consultation was held in Edmonton, in 2003 involving both Canadian and international experts in risk assessment. The primary focus of the consultation was to critically evaluate the risk assessment objectives proposed.
  • The output of the project was a comprehensive report, which highlighted how risk assessment plays a key role in the initial formulation of research, the actual collection of scientific data, and the uptake of scientific information into actions, such as policy development.

Outcomes

  • Stakeholder knowledge: improved understanding results in more informed decision-making regarding risk mitigation strategies, and an improved capacity to identify important knowledge gaps that can be addressed through targeted research

Research Team

  • Mansel Griffiths, Director for Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety, University of Guelph
  • Valerie Davidson, Professor, University of Guelph
  • Steve Hrudey, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta
  • Judith Isaac-Renton, Professor and Director for Public Health Microbiology & Reference Laboratory, University of British Columbia

Partners

  • Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Decision Analysis Risk Consultants