How would you describe yourself taking into account your academic and professional background?

My name is David Vose, I have two hats, the fist hat I am director of a company that makes risk analysis software, Vose Software and the second hat is one I’ve been wearing for 30 years – the hat of consultant in risk analysis. I have a background in science, math and physics but I don’t really call myself a scientist, I don’t perform experiments like scientists do, instead I am a professional risk analyst which means I help people determine the best option among a variety of options when they are faced with risks and uncertainty and that is a quite broad statement. I work in a lot of different areas, banking, insurance, in almost every industry.

Photo of David Vose

What is your role in SafeConsume?

In the SafeConsume project is helpful for me that I understand some science and physics, in my field, is helpful because physics tries to understand the world and then apply fairly simplistic risk analysis models that could describe the different possible options. I have the responsibly of framing the risk based decision questions that SafeConsume could answer about how consumers could adapt the food handling in order to reduce risk of contracting food borne illnesses, the more data we have, the more meaningful guidance we can provide.

There is a risk in everything, in every domain, in every activity...

Yes, people tend to think of risks as single events that would happen, the flip side of this particular coin is that opportunity is random event that may happen and if it does is a good thing, but risk analysis is broader than that. You can talk for example about the risk of a person dying, but what we really are talking about is about the probability of how long that person will live. If a particular risk event, to be run over by a car or poisoned by food, these are risk events, but how long a person live is continuous, so there is uncertainty about it. Risk analysis looks at all these inabilities of predicting the future including uncertainty of how much rain will fall but it also includes individual risk events, like a pandemic.

What can you tell us about hazard- and risk-based systems? What is the difference between them?

In food safety hazard-based approach is really pragmatic, it sets a simple set of rules that you can use in a farm, in a factory, in a supermarket, there are simple hazard ideas, for example if you go to a poultry farm in order not to bring a disease from the outside you can thick your feet into some liquid that sterilized your feet; in supermarket, for example, sell-by-date is checked and if the expiration date is close they put those products on sale. On the contrast, in risk-based analysis we look on how to optimize the protection of the population based on the data that we have. Thinking about COVID-19 epidemic, the best hazard-based approach is to make up some rules like wearing a mask in public, in in-door areas, wash your hands, keep a distance of 1.5 m. What risk-analysis tries to do is to put numbers: is it 1.5 m or it should be 2.5 m, the number of people in a room, what kind of room.

What do you think people should do in order to reduce the risks of food borne illness?

The first advice I would give to consumers is to understand that there is always a risk, especially in raw food. So, keep all perishable food in the fridge, it seems obvious, but from the survey that we have done it is surprising, at least for me, that people don’t keep in the fridge many things that should be kept in the fridge. If you handle the food properly it is very unlikely to get sick. Another advice is to do simple, cheap and easy things. For example a simple, cheap and easy thing to do: never make a recipe with raw eggs, like zabaglione, like mayonnaise and many traditional things. Even if is cheap and easy, it is not so pragmatic, it requires people to let go some of their most cherished traditions. We don’t want to preach people and to tell them how they should live their life, what they should eat or not, behaviour change is very hard to do, but we can try to make them aware of how they can keep themselves safe.