Food safety

39th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission

What's new today?
Date: 29 June 2016

Future work of Codex on antimicrobial resistance
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a serious threat to human health. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites are all microbes that cause diseases in humans and animals. All types of microbes can develop resistance to medicines. This occurs naturally over time, but overuse and misuse of medicines, like antibiotics, in people and animals is speeding up the process. Common infections are now becoming resistant to available treatments. In 2015, resolutions on tackling antimicrobial resistance were adopted by governments at WHO's World Health Assembly and the FAO Conference, as well as the World Organisation for Animal Health's (OIE) World Assembly of Delegates. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has agreed to review the existing guidelines, including the Code of practice to minimise and contain antimicrobial resistance adopted in 2005, and identify new work or revisions to be initiated. A dedicated Codex task force on AMR chaired by South Korea will take the new work forward.

Decisions taken on 28 June 2016

Maximum limits for pesticide residues in food
Pesticides are chemicals used to kill insects, weeds and other pests to prevent them from damaging crops. Even when used in accordance with best practices, low levels of residues of pesticides can end up in food. To ensure that such residues do not cause harm to people’s health and based on risk assessments provided by a group of independent international experts (the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on Pesticide Residues, JMPR), the Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted maximum residue limits for more than 30 different pesticides in various foods.

Future revision of Codex’s General Principles of Food Hygiene
The General Principles of Food Hygiene (GPFH) and its Annex: Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) System and Guidelines for its Application provide food business operators worldwide with the basis for producing food that is safe and suitable for consumption. Since its inception in the early 1970s, HACCP has become the universal system for the control of food safety, on which most regulatory food control systems and international food safety standards (e.g. ISO 22000) are based. HACCP or similar approaches to identifying hazards and establishing controls to prevent them have also been used in guidance on the safety of animal feed and drinking water. While the current GPFH remain largely pertinent, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has agreed to initiate an overhaul of the existing text, including its annex on HACCP, to extend the scope of the GPFH, make them more user-friendly and incorporate the latest developments in food safety management.

Decisions taken on 27 June 2016

Guidelines for the control of Salmonella in beef and pork
Beef and pork meat can be contaminated with various bacteria including non-typhoidal Salmonella. Salmonella, which causes diarrhoeal disease, is one of the most frequent causes of foodborne illnesses around the world, with tens of millions becoming sick each year. Although most cases are mild, Salmonella causes an estimated 60 000 deaths annually. The guidelines adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission focus on practices from primary production to processing to prevent, reduce, or eliminate Salmonella in fresh beef and pork. In addition, the best way for consumers to avoid becoming sick from eating meat that may be contaminated with Salmonella is to cook it thoroughly.

Guidelines on food hygiene to control foodborne parasites
Foods including meat, milk, fish, fruit and vegetables can be contaminated with different parasites. Examples include Toxoplasma gondii and Taenia solium (pork tapeworm) which can be carried by animals and transmitted to humans when they eat contaminated meat that is raw or undercooked. Humans infected with Taenia solium can develop brain cysts, and this is the most frequent preventable cause of epilepsy in the world. Three key ways to control foodborne parasites are to prevent infection in farmed food animals, prevent contamination of fresh and processed foods, and inactivate parasites in foods during processing (e.g. freezing, heat treatment). The guidelines adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission provide information on hygienic production of various types of foods to control parasites and protect health.

Nutrient reference values for the guidelines on nutrition labelling
A lack of vitamins and minerals in a person’s diet can have serious health consequences. For example, Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness and increase the risk of disease and death from severe infections. Foods high in Vitamin A include eggs, milk, liver, yellow and orange vegetables, and leafy greens. Another example is iron deficiency—the most widespread nutritional disorder in the world. A lack of iron can cause anaemia (lower than normal level of red blood cells) which stops the body from getting the amount of oxygen it needs. Iron deficiency anaemia can lead to pregnancy complications and delayed growth and development in infants and children. Foods high in iron include meat, shellfish, and some leafy green vegetables. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted nutrient reference values for Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Vitamin A to be included in its Guidelines on Nutrition Labelling.

Several new standards for the safe use of food additives
Additives are substances added to food for technological purposes, such as preservatives that keep food fresh for longer, antioxidants that stop products from going rancid, and stabilisers that help mix ingredients. Additives also comprise colours, flavours and sweeteners. The safety of food additives is evaluated by an independent international expert committee (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, JECFA) before their use in food can be recommended. Based on JECFA's safety assessments, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted almost 400 maximum use levels for food additives in specific foods. These include a number of antioxidants and preservatives.

Maximum level of inorganic arsenic in husked rice
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the Earth's crust. It is present in many foods due to absorption from soil and water. Rice in particular can take up more arsenic than other foods and, being a highly consumed food item, can contribute significantly to arsenic exposure. Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking-water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with developmental effects, heart disease, diabetes, and damage to the nervous system and brain. To protect consumers from excessive exposure, the Codex Alimentarius Commission recommends that no more than 0.35 mg/kg of inorganic arsenic should be allowed in husked rice (paddy rice from which the husk only has been removed, also known as brown rice or cargo rice).