Foodborne diseases are recognized as an important cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Even in developed countries, up to one third of the population is affected by a foodborne illness each year (1).
Thus food safety is an issue of fundamental public health concern and achieving a safe food supply poses major challenges for national food safety officials. Surprisingly, at present there is no clear connection between government policy and a reduction in foodborne illness (2). The most important reason for this is the difficulties governments are facing in setting clear public health targets in the form of Acceptable Levels of Protection (ALOPs) and to link them with maximum frequencies and/or concentrations of hazards in food at the point of consumption (Food Safety Objectives, FSOs) or at other specified steps in the food chain (Performance Objectives, PO). Using the concept of ALOP and FSO, ideally directly linked, would be valuable because it offers a means to make the stringency in food safety management that is required of the relevant industry by competent authorities both transparent and quantitative.
The project has three main goals: 1) The development of a framework to decide upon an ALOP. 2) The establishment of approaches to link ALOPs to FSOs and vice versa. 3) Testing these approaches in individual case-studies.
A framework was developed for estimating the burden of foodborne illness due to microbiological hazards on a national level using the Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY) health metric (3). Such estimates on the burden of illness can be used by governments for consultation and agreement on ALOP (4) and for prioritizing food safety management decisions. Although the approach was developed and tested for Greece (3) it can easily be adapted and implemented by other countries in need of this kind of information. For the second goal, an epidemiology-based approach (top-down approach) and a risk assessment-based approach (bottom-up approach) were developed to provide the link between ALOP and FSO. These approaches were tested using currently available data regarding the risk of Listeria monocytogenes in deli meats in the Netherlands (5).
More case studies are under development to test the feasibility of setting the ALOP-FSO link regarding the risk of different pathogen-product combinations.
Through the setting and application of ALOP and FSO values, governments may be able to improve transparency on what constitutes a safe food product and provide quantitative guidance to the food industry.
5. Gkogka E, Reij MW, Gorris LGM, Zwietering MH. The application of the Appropriate Level of Protection (ALOP) and Food Safety Objective (FSO) concepts in food safety management, using Listeria monocytogenes in deli meats as a case study. Food Control. 2012 (in press). DOI: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2012.04.020