Cereals and grains top of FAO and WHO’s risk...

Cereals and grains top of FAO and WHO’s risk ranking


Cereals and grains have topped a food safety risk ranking assessment by FAO and WHO.

Based on a request from the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the foods of greatest concern from a microbiological food safety perspective.

Low-moisture foods (LMF) were defined as having a water activity (aw) of 0.85 or below. They typically have a long shelf life and have been perceived for many years to not represent a microbial food safety risk. However, in recent years, a number of outbreaks linked to LMF has illustrated that despite the fact that microorganisms cannot grow in these products, bacteria can persist for long periods of time.

Hazards and categories assessed

Even very low numbers of a microorganism in these products can result in illness, such as Salmonella in chocolate, or subsequent temperature abuse of a previously low-moisture commodity may allow the organism to proliferate and cause illness, like Bacillus cereus in rice.

Seven categories of LMF included in the ranking process were cereals and grains; confections and snacks; dried fruits and vegetables; dried protein products; nuts and nut products; seeds for consumption; and spices and dried aromatic herbs, including teas.

Each category was evaluated against burden of illness, production, consumption and international trade. Data collection was done in 2014 and analyzed until 2016.

The review covered nine microbial hazards: Bacillus cereus, Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium perfringens, Cronobacter, E. coli (including generic and pathogenic strains), Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes and Enterobacteriaceae.

Salmonella was the most frequent microbial hazard implicated in outbreaks. Bacillus cereus outbreaks were mainly related to smaller incidents from rice and other cereal products. Staphylococcus aureus caused some very large outbreaks due to contaminated powdered milk.

Risk ranking results

Cereals and grains scored highly across all the criteria. This is not surprising given the importance of the commodities and products in this category as staples in the global food supply, said the report.

Dried protein products, which were ranked second, stood out because of a couple of very large outbreaks associated with dried dairy products.

Spices, dried herbs and teas ranked third overall. Despite them being consumed in small amounts, there is ample opportunity for contamination during the production and processing stages. There have been several large outbreaks of salmonellosis associated with this category.

Nuts and nut products were ranked fourth, followed by confections and snacks; dried fruits and vegetables; and seeds for human consumption.

For cereals and grains, the most common interventions were dry heat treatments, chemical treatments and irradiation.

Experts said it was important to prevent LMF contamination during harvest, post-harvest and processing through good agricultural and manufacturing practices and hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) food safety management systems. This is because many LMF products are eaten without a consumer-level kill step.

Spices and dried herbs

Another report covered a risk assessment on microbiological hazards in spices and dried herbs.

Salmonella and the spore-forming organisms Bacillus cereus and Clostridium perfringens were considered foodborne pathogens of particular concern. It covered chili and red pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, black pepper, oregano, nutmeg, rosemary, saffron, and basil.

A risk ranking exercise saw rosemary come to the top for Clostridium perfringens and chili for Bacillus cereus and Salmonella. However, given the global nature of the industry, and the diverse ways in which they are produced, processed and used, it is difficult to characterize the risk associated with an individual spice or dried herb.

The FAO/WHO Joint Expert Meeting on Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA) considered evidence on the burden of illness, prevalence and concentration of selected microbial hazards in various spices and dried aromatic herbs, and interventions aimed at controlling them. 

Safety of spices and dried aromatic herbs depends on maintaining good hygienic practices along the food chain from farm to table, during primary production, processing, packing, retail and at the point of consumption. There have been several outbreaks associated with spice and seasonings, with most being caused by Salmonella.

Risk may be reduced when microbial reduction steps are applied. However, the success of such treatments in eliminating and reducing contamination depends on efficacy and production and processing practices.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Read More

Latest news

Tracking online hate speech that follows real-world events

A machine-learning analysis has revealed patterns in online hate speech that suggest complex—and sometimes counterintuitive—links between real-world events and...

First primate relatives discovered in the high Arctic from around 52 million years ago

In the warm climate of ancient Canada, early primate relatives adapted to life in the high Arctic, albeit with...

Sleep disorders in parents and children associated with more parental stress, study finds

The rate of parental stress is greater among parents who have sleep disorders themselves, or have children with sleep...

Engineers created semi-living ‘cyborg cells’ with many capabilities

Natural and artificial cells are two common chassis in synthetic biology. Natural cells can perform complex tasks through synthetic...
- Advertisement -spot_img

Scientists digitally unwrapped the almost 2,300-year-old undisturbed mummy of a teenage boy

Ancient Egyptian mummies represent an opportunity to learn more about humans’ health, beliefs, and skills in antiquity. In the...

Funeral hears man who died in alleged Cork hospital assault was ‘one of the gentlest people’

The funeral of Matthew Healy was told this afternoon that he was a gentle person who loved his family,...

Must read

Titans, Doom Patrol Ending After Current Seasons on HBO Max

Their fourth seasons will be their last.Updated: Jan 26,...

Xbox Direct Reactions and Analysis – Unlocked 579

Microsoft gave us a Hi-Fi suprise!Updated: Jan 26, 2023...
- Advertisement -spot_imgspot_imgspot_imgspot_img

You might also likeRELATED
Recommended to you