By: Andy Benson Date: 8/6/10
One of the key topics of conversation, and the focus of a major international panel discussion at the recent International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) annual conference, was the question of how to inform and advise consumers about important developments in food safety and security.
Representatives of the World Health Organization, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the European Food Information Council participated alongside the International Food Information Council (IFIC) in an international symposium on risk communication, sponsored by the IAFP Foundation, and jointly convened by IFIC and Health Canada.
So if this is so important, what exactly is food safety risk communication?
While risk communication is a very complex discipline, in essence it is very simple. The Harvard School of Public Health has defined risk communication in its training programs as “Helping people understand the facts in ways that are relevant to their own situations, including their feelings and their values, so they can put the risk in perspective and make more informed choices and decisions.”
Food safety risk communication is part of a three step process that begins with risk assessment, where food safety scientists and statisticians evaluate the likelihood of a risk to public health occurring.
Step two is risk management, where health officials, scientific experts, food producers and retailers get together to decide exactly what steps are needed to ensure public safety.
Step three is risk communication, where information and advice is shared with the consuming public and with other parties involved in food production and preparation, food distribution and sales.
From their experience in risk communication, IFIC has developed a set of guidelines to help ensure that the right messages reach stakeholders and consumers so that they can make informed decisions about the food they eat and its safety.
Key among these are:
• Plan and prepare in advance for developments of importance that you can anticipate
• Understand and address the public’s concerns
• Communicate with clarity and empathy
• Engage and empower stakeholders and the public to take action
Like it or not, we are all risk communicators. Risk communication is something we do every day. Every time we pass on a bit of advice to help a friend or colleague to make a decision that is actually a risk communication.
So how can we do this most effectively?
Firstly, seek out the facts. Don’t just blindly pass on hearsay and rumors but go to credible, reliable sources of information like government agencies’ websites and organizations that have renowned expertise in food safety, nutrition and health.
Be sure to separate the facts from the fiction and the hyperbole, and pass on only the most solid information from the most reliable of sources, so that you can help to protect the health of your family, your friends and your colleagues.
For more information: http://www.foodinsight.org/OpenSearchEngine/tabid/85/Default.aspx?xsq=risk+communication