Risk Ranking of Food Safety Hazards

Risk ranking is a technique that can be used to identify the most significant risks, thereby prioritising them in a given situation to enable efficient and effective management decision making.

In food safety management, setting priorities plays a crucial role in the decision-making process. When equipped with finite resources, and a very large number of conflicting demands upon those resources, the establishment of priorities is a necessity. Risk ranking is a technique that can be used to identify the most significant risks, thereby prioritising them in a given situation to enable efficient and effective management decision making.

The identification of hazards and the calculation of the associated risks are central = risk components of ensuring food safety and safeguarding public health. In food processing, a hazard can be in the form of a biological, chemical, allergenic or physical substance that has the potential to harm a consumer. The seriousness and immediacy of threats vary by hazard. Some situations can be more hazardous than others depending on the levels, sizes, quantities, or doses of unwanted substances or conditions.

Risk is a measure of the likelihood of a hazard causing harm and the severity of that harm. Or, another way of looking at it is to consider risk an estimate of the probability of a hazard being present. The categorisation of a risk can be done by combining the likelihood of occurrence in a matrix with the severity of the consequence.

Likelihood of Occurrence

Likelihood of occurrence can be described as the frequency of a specific hazard in a specific food. Drivers for the likelihood differ for each raw material or product. However, examples of common key drivers of this are:

  • History of previous food hazards and emerging concerns
  • Forecasted scarcities of the ingredient due to poor harvests
  • Trade volume and fluctuations thereof
  • The market value of the ingredient and fluctuations thereof
  • The political situation in the country of origin (corruption level)


Severity of the issue (safety or quality) can be described as the potential of the hazard to adversely impact on consumers. This would relate to, for example, the seriousness of an illness known to be caused by the hazard, for example, the toxicity of a given adulterant.

  • A safety issue can be described as a hazard, whether chronic or acute, that may make food injurious to the health of the consumer.
  • A quality issue can be described as all other attributes that influence a product’s value to the consumer.

Creme Global has developed a comprehensive and evidence-based scientific process to prioritise and evaluate food safety and quality risks. Chemical hazard risk scoring methods or ranking methods range from qualitative expert based approaches to more data-driven quantitative scoring systems. Our method follows a quantitative approach; specifically, a hazard index or risk ratio which compares the estimated exposure to a contaminant with one of its toxicological endpoints. For biological hazards, Creme Global uses a “top-down” epidemiological approach rather than a “bottom-up” microbiological approach for estimating illness. This top down approach to estimating illnesses due to pathogen- food combinations implemented by Creme Global begins with records of illnesses and traces these illnesses back to food origin. This is distinguished from conventional bottom up risk-assessment approaches, which use food contamination data, predictive microbiology, and consumption patterns to estimate illnesses.


  1. H. J. Van der Fels-Klerx, E. D. Van Asselt, M. Raley, M. Poulsen, H. Korsgaard, L. Bredsdorff, M. Nauta, M. D’agostino, D. Coles, H. J. P. Marvin & L. J. Frewer (2018) Critical review of methods for risk ranking of food-related hazards, based on risks for human health, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 58:2, 178-193.
  2. Scientific Opinion on the development of a risk ranking toolbox for the EFSA BIOHAZ Panel. 2015. Available at: https://ecdc.europa.eu/sites/portal/files/documents/development-of-risk-ranking-toolbox-EFSA-BIOHAZ-Panel-Scientific-Opinion.pdf. [Accessed 26 April 2019]
  3. Critical review of methodology and application of risk ranking for prioritisation of food and feed related issues, on the basis of the size of anticipated health impact. 2015. Available at: https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/sp.efsa.2015.EN-710. [Accessed 26 April 2019].
  4. Risk ranking of chemical and microbiological hazards in food. 2018. Available at: https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2018.e160813. [Accessed 26 April 2019].

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