The so-called preventive risk communication has been playing an increasingly significant and constantly changing role in the work of food safety agencies in the last 10-20 years.

In addition to the reduction and prevention of foodborne illnesses, functions of risk communication include raising awareness, building strategies on observed daily routines, analysing consumer behaviour, as well as considering psychological aspects of risk perception. Nowadays, ensuring transparency, building trust, and earning the appreciation of political decision-makers are relatively newly identified functions.

Knowledge generated in the SafeConsume project – conclusions about consumer behaviours, exact messages for identified risky behaviours, experiences of surveys on European risk communication practices - were synthesised into a ’Risk communication guideline’ containing risk mitigation strategies for different types of food safety risks and situations. In addition to risk communication advice, a self-evaluation tool (SET) was developed to help food safety authorities improving their risk communication practices.

Risk communication strategies and key messages

Pieces of scientifically proven risk communication strategy advice that can be applied by all stakeholders promoting food safety in the home were formed into self-explanatory, easy-to-understand, easy-to-use, clear risk mitigation strategies. The strategies include different approaches assigned to several types of risks, and cover aspects from timing, recommended communicators, communication and feedback channels, communication tools, and messages for specific situations.

Further refinement of food safety messages specifically targeting the focus areas of SafeConsume has been developed using an iterative process involving food scientists, microbiologists, social scientists, the food industry, and designers. A procedure was initiated to identify which practices are most important to change to reduce risk and best practices most likely to be affected by food safety messages. Eight different messages covering the high-risk areas investigated in the project got the highest scores from the expert opinion, which are presented in the Guideline.

Scoring system for assessing preparedness of food safety authorities

An online scoring system is also the part of the Risk communication guideline, which helps to determine the weaknesses in risk communication, and delivers hints for possible development steps. This system can be considered as a decision-supporting tool, designed for practical utilization and providing immediate results with reasonable relevancy.

Using the Self-evaluation tool – developed by risk communication experts in the SafeConsume project – risk communicators (especially leaders of national authorities) can explore their readiness level in different aspects of risk communication by answering simple, closed-type questions. The SET identifies three fields of organisational risk communication as crucial during the evaluation of the organisation’s current practices and the areas to be developed: Organisational management, human capacities and risk communication activities.

The Risk communication guideline is freely downloadable from here: Risk communication guideline