Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hazard or Risk?

The words "Hazard" and "Risk" are often used rather loosely in everyday speech. e.g.  "Cycling to work in Auckland is a risk". What does this mean?

I read an article today that attempted to clarify the situation.  Unfortunately, the writer got it wrong and increased the possible confusion.

In terms of food safety, a hazard is something that has the potential to harm the health of the consumer, such as the presence of a piece of glass in a cheesecake.  Hazards may be biological, chemical or physical.

The risk is the probability of the hazard occurring.

The other thing we need to consider is the severity of the outcome.

Let's take a non-food example to show the importance of understanding these terms.

The hazard under consideration is getting hit by a wheel falling from an airliner.

We know that the risk (probability) of this happening is very low.

But if the event does occur, the severity of getting hit by falling debris is very high, possibly lethal.

Now think about hazard, risk and severity in the food safety context.

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