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FAO's integrated programme on food control

Programme intégré de la FAO sur le contrôle des aliments
Programa integral de la FAO sobre control de alimentos

E. Boutrif

Ezzedine Boutrif is a Senior Officer for the Food Quality and Consumer Protection Group of the Food Quality and Standards Service, FAO Food and Nutrition Division.

Producing a food supply that is safe and of good quality is a prerequisite to successful domestic and international food trade and a key to sustainable development of national agricultural resources. All consumers have the right to expect and demand good-quality and safe food at affordable prices. This right was recognized by the participants at the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture, held in Hot Springs, Virginia, United States in 1943, which laid the foundation for the creation of FAO. The conference called on FAO "to assist governments to extend and improve standards of nutrient content and purity of all important foods".

The United Nations General Assembly, through its Resolution 39/248 of 9 April 1985, adopted guidelines for consumer protection which provide a framework for governments, particularly those of developing countries, to use in elaborating and strengthening consumer protection policies and legislation. The guidelines state that "When formulating national policies and plans with regard to food, Governments should take into account the need of all consumers for food security and should support and, as far as possible, adopt standards from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization Codex Alimentarius or, in their absence, other generally accepted international food standards. Governments should maintain, develop or improve food safety measures, including, inter alia, safety criteria, food standards and dietary requirements and effective monitoring, inspection and evaluation mechanisms". Following the 1962 creation of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the establishment of its subsidiary bodies, it became clear that without substantial participation of developing countries in the commission's work, the international character of the Joint FAO/World Health Organization (WHO) Food Standards Programme might be jeopardized. Therefore, FAO created the Food Control and Consumer Protection Group, with the main objective of assisting developing member countries in establishing and/or strengthening their national food control systems, thus to enable them to participate more actively in international standardization activities. The new group would provide expert advice to the Codex Alimentarius Commission on various issues related to the quality and safety of foods. The Food Control and Consumer Protection Group together with the Codex Secretariat formed the Food Standards and Food Science Service, renamed in 1985 as the Food Quality and Standards Service. In 1994, after the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations ended, the new Food Quality Liaison Group was added to this service.


The world has witnessed unprecedented progress in agricultural production and in food science and technology over the past 50 years, which has had a profound impact on the way in which food is produced, processed, stored, distributed and consumed. The changes have contributed to a sizeable increase in the amount of food that is available globally and to a general improvement of the nutritional status of people worldwide, although malnutrition still persists among poor population groups. At the same time, as new production, processing and preservation techniques are used at farm level and in food processing plants to increase productivity, prolong shelf-life or improve the organoleptic and nutritional properties of food products, concern has grown among consumers about the quality and safety of the food supply. The contamination of the environment with industrial pollutants which find their way into the food chain has escalated consumer anxiety over the safety of food. Furthermore, the rapid development of international food trade and the expansion of food distribution systems has increased the potential for the spread of foodborne diseases and zoonoses.

For these reasons, it has become essential that every nation establish an effective food control infrastructure capable of ensuring maximum consumer protection and promoting fair practices in food trade. Such an infrastructure, when accompanied by a reliable programme of export inspection and certification, can add value to exported food products and help in national development efforts. An effective national strategy on food control should take into account the development needs of the country and assist in programmes for increased food production, improved processing and reduction of food losses.


Ten years after FAO's food control work had its origins at the Hot Springs Conference of 1945. FAO, with WHO, established the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) to evaluate the safety and efficacy of additives used in food production. This was followed by joint efforts of FAO and WHO to establish worldwide standards for milk and milk products in 1958 and the creation of the Codex Alimentarius Commission under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme in 1962. Direct assistance to developing countries in food control began in the 1960s.


An effective food control system has the following fundamental components.

Laws and regulations. There must be a basic food quality and safety law supplemented by detailed regulations requiring, among other things, sound hygienic practices along the food chain, the establishment of food standards, safe use of food additives and pesticides and informative labelling that will not mislead or deceive consumers.

Inspection and analysis. For effective administration of the laws and regulations, an organization of technical administrative officers, food inspectors and analysts is needed, with adequate food laboratories and other facilities.

Certification and reporting. A credible reporting or certification system is needed to give the producer and the purchaser confidence in the food control system.

Information. The consumer must be made aware of food problems through information and education, especially on proper food handling and storage. The consumer is an effective partner in food control activities.

Quality control. Food producers, processors and marketers must be aware of and implement strict quality control procedures at all levels of the food chain to ensure that consumers receive good-quality and safe foods at all times.

Cooperation. Food producers, processors and handlers must cooperate with enforcement agencies to ensure food safety and quality.

Specialist advice

FAO provides specialist advice on the quality and safety of foods, especially in regard to food additives, contaminants and residues of chemicals used during agricultural and livestock production.

Additives. The use of food additives is stimulated by the need to maintain the physical and nutritional quality of food during shipment, storage and distribution and the need to meet the requirements of consumers in terms of the attractiveness of the food and its other characteristics. However, the potential use of additives to mask deficiencies in food quality, coupled with a better understanding of the possible negative effects of long-term exposure to small amounts of chemicals, has led countries to control the use of chemicals in food and to limit this use to chemicals that can be shown to be safe and effective in their intended use. The control of the use of food additives is therefore an important element of national food control systems.

JECFA provides essential advice to member countries of FAO and WHO on the safety of additives and on the specifications of purity to which such additives must conform. This independent scientific committee of experts has been active since 1956, and its work remains a world reference point for determining the acceptance of food additives. To date, some 800 food additives have been evaluated by JECFA, and the results of these evaluations have been published and distributed to professionals worldwide.

Contaminants. JECFA evaluates environmental and industrial contaminants such as lead, mercury and aflatoxins to determine how the contamination enters the food supply, what levels of intake are safe and how the intake of the contaminants can be minimized and controlled. The committee has evaluated several contaminants and established the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for them.

Residues. Biologically active chemicals are used in agricultural and livestock production to protect against disease, infestation and resulting production losses, as well as to improve production rates. Residues of these chemicals may remain in food. Maximum residue levels (MRLs) which are determined to be safe are established by JECFA for veterinary drugs and related compounds and by the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) for pesticides. At present, some 50 veterinary drugs have been evaluated and more than 1 200 MRLs have been established for pesticide residues.

Food contamination and residues monitoring. Food contamination continues to be a serious problem around the world. Surveillance of chemical and biological contaminants in foods is important not only for public health but also because of the negative economic impact of contamination. Excessive levels of aflatoxin or pesticide residues are often a cause of food export/import rejections in international food trade. Since 1975, FAO, WHO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have been operating the Food Contamination Monitoring Programme, which provides information to member countries on the extent of environmental contamination of food including that due to persistent pesticides. The programme also follows the global trends of food contamination problems to devise and implement corrective measures. FAO advises collaborating centres on quality assurance programmes designed to ensure accuracy and reproducibility in laboratory analysis; as of 1995 there are 42 such centres.

Other matters. FAO provides expert advice to member countries and to the Codex Alimentarius Commission on different issues related to food quality and safety. Advice is provided through the convening of expert consultations and meetings on specific technical questions. At these meetings, top scientists from various parts of the world debate the subject and reach agreement on a recommended course of action. A number of such consultations and meetings have been convened by FAO, some in collaboration with other agencies such as WHO, UNEP and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The most recent subjects considered by expert groups include; assessment of protein quality; determination of radionuclide contamination; establishment of a sampling plan for aflatoxin analysis in peanuts and corn; consumer participation in food control; application of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) in food control; risk assessment in setting of food standards; and technology and quality control of food fortification.


Manuals of food quality control. 16. Radionuclides in food. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper No. 14/16. 1994. 127 pp. (E)

Street foods. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper No. 46.1989. 100 pp. (E/F/S)

Sampling plans for aflatoxin analysis in peanuts and corn. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper No. 55. 1993. 75 pp. (E)

Guidelines for developing an effective national food control system. 1976. 176 pp. (A. E, F, S)

Food hygiene in catering establishments: legislation and model regulations. 1977. 16 pp. (E, F)


An important aspect of FAO's work is the production and dissemination among professionals and policy-makers of technical and policy advisory publications. In the field of food quality control, a wide range of such publications has been developed and published by FAO, at times in collaboration with other agencies (see box on facing page). The publications include guidelines and manuals covering different aspects of food control and food safety such as management of food control programmes, food inspection, food analysis, prevention of mycotoxin contamination, food laboratory design and management and analytical quality assurance. Of particular interest to developing countries is the Guidelines for developing an effective national food control system prepared by FAO and WHO as part of a UNEP project; this publication is a valuable reference for member countries working to develop and modernize their national food control infrastructures.

Food control in developing countries

The development and strengthening of an integrated national food control system and the establishment of food contaminant control and monitoring programmes at the national, regional and international levels have received particular attention in FAO programmes during the past 20 years. Technical assistance in food control, in the form of project implementation, consultation, training and/or other advisory services, has been provided to more than 60 countries in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Near East, Africa and Asia and the Pacific. A few of FAO's recent activities are highlighted below to provide a general idea of the work being carried out to meet the technical assistance needs of developing countries in the field of food quality control.

Development of national strategies. To provide a certain measure of coherence in national food quality control systems and programmes, FAO has assisted countries in reviewing their food control systems and activities and in formulating strategies to improve food quality and consumer protection. In recent years, studies have been carried out in Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Cambodia, Ecuador, Fiji, Laos, Lesotho, Malta, Namibia, Senegal, Somalia, Uganda and Viet Nam, and proposals have been prepared for projects to strengthen their national capabilities.

Advice on legislation. FAO has assisted developing countries in reviewing and updating their food laws and regulations related to food quality control. Since this work began in the late 1960s, the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission has been used as the basis for national regulations, and harmonization of national regulations with the Codex regulations has been promoted. FAO, in collaboration with WHO, has elaborated a model food law which several developing countries have adapted to create food control legislation relevant to their conditions.

Training and human resources development. Training of government and food industry personnel in all areas related to food quality and safety is a major aspect of FAO's work. Importance has been placed on food inspection, food analysis, certification requirements and procedures for export, and management of food control programmes at various levels. In Asia, a regional training network has been established for food inspectors, emphasizing such topics as food export/import inspection, inspection of food processing industries and sampling techniques. Five training centres, one each in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, have been established at existing institutions, which are organizing the courses. Similar training networks for Latin America, the Near East and Africa are planned and will be implemented when financial resources are available.

Since the 1960s, FAO has provided training for government and food industry personnel in food quality and safety measures - Depuis les années 60, la FAO assure la formation des fonctionnaires et du personnel des industries alimentaires aux mesures de la qualité et de la salubrité des aliments - Desde los años sesenta, la FAO ha ido capacitando a personal gubernamental y de la industria de alimentos para medir la calidad e inocuidad de los alimentos

Export food and international trade. Special emphasis is being given to improvement of national export food inspection and certification programmes, and projects to this end have been established in Costa Rica, Indonesia and Thailand. In India, assistance has been provided in training of export food inspectors. In Senegal, a national workshop was organized recently to assess the export food control situation and define future strategies. Regional workshops were held in Costa Rica, Egypt and Indonesia to define export/import food control needs.

A global study to identify food contaminants affecting international trade was carried out by FAO with funding by the Government of Finland. Thirty-five countries from all regions of the world participated in this one-year study. Food export/import systems were reviewed and data were collected on major contaminants found in foods. A technical meeting held in Bangkok in early 1990 reviewed the study findings and recommended a series of actions to control and monitor the level of food contaminants in the concerned countries.

Street foods. The rapid growth of urban populations and the increased demands for the supply of food to cities have led to the burgeoning of the street-food industry. In many developing countries, a wide variety of raw, cooked, semi-processed, hot and cold foods and beverages are sold by itinerant pedlars or from open-air food stalls. FAO has conducted several studies in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Near East to assess the importance of this informal food service in urban nutrition; to evaluate the socio-economic conditions of vendors and users; to identify problems encountered by operators in following proper food-handling practices; and to determine measures needed to ensure adequate consumer protection. These studies led to the formulation and execution of projects to assist local authorities in improving infrastructure (e.g. provision of potable water, garbage disposal facilities and areas for personal hygiene of vendors), strengthening official control over the quality and safety of street foods and training food handlers in basic hygienic practices. Such projects have been implemented in Belize, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand and Zaire.

The FAO Expert Consultation on Street Foods held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 1988 provided deep insights on the magnitude of the problems posed by this informal sector and made recommendations to improve the quality and safety of street foods. FAO has also held regional workshops on street foods in Asia (in Yogyakarta in 1986), in Africa (in Accra, Ghana in 1992 and Cotonou, Benin in 1994) and in Latin America (in Lima, Peru in 1985, Guatemala City, Guatemala in 1990 and Kingston, Jamaica in 1994).


FAO, through its Rome headquarters and regional and country offices, will continue to implement vigorously the recommendations made by several recent international conferences: the FAO/WHO Conference on Food Standards, Chemicals in Food and Food Trade, held in Rome in March 1991; the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992; the FAO/WHO International Conference on Nutrition, held in Rome in December 1992; and the finalization of the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations in Marrakesh, Morocco in April 1994. These conferences and their recommendations for action have shifted the future of FAO's programme in the field of food quality and safety.

Improving the quality and safety of food sold in urban centres gained attention in the 1980s - L'amélioration de la qualité et de la salubrité des aliments vendus dans les centres urbains a suscité un regain d'attention dans les années 80 - En la década de 1980 se manifestó una preocupación especial por mejorar la calidad e inocuidad de los alimentos vendidos en los centros urbanos

Future activities will strengthen FAO's leading role in gathering, disseminating and analysing information on food quality, consumer protection and food contaminants. The programme will provide a forum for professional debate and policy dialogue on scientific and technical issues related to food quality and safety. It will continue to provide technical advice and assistance to member countries to help them strengthen the various elements of their food control systems, including institutional development, food standards and regulations, food inspection, food analysis and the overall management of food control programmes. The programme will continue to provide expert advice to governments, the Codex Alimentarius Commission and other international and regional bodies on the quality and safety of food, the safe use of food additives and maximum residue levels of food contaminants and chemicals used in veterinary medicines.

Emphasis will be given to the establishment of regional and subregional centres of excellence in various disciplines related to food control and to the promotion of Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries and Technical Cooperation among Countries in Transition in the operation of these centres. Particular attention will be given to the use of these centres for training of food control professionals at all levels and for applied research and studies on pertinent issues.

The Food Control and Consumer Protection programme will give special consideration to promoting food export and to the harmonization of food import/export inspection and certification procedures among trading partners through the development of prototype systems for determining equivalence in food control systems. These activities will require enhanced collaboration with the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Office of International Epizootics, WHO and other organizations in the implementation of WTO agreements on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and on technical barriers to trade.

Programme intégré de la FAO sur le contrôle des aliments

Les approvisionnements en aliments sains de qualité sont un droit pour le consommateur et une condition indispensable aux échanges et au développement agricole durable. Les directives des Nations Unies en ce qui concerne la protection du consommateur ont servi de cadre à la conception de politiques et de législations nationales et favorisé l'adoption des normes du Codex. Pour leur permettre de participer aux activités internationales de normalisation, le Groupe de contrôle des aliments et de la protection du consommateur de la FAO aide les pays en développement à améliorer leurs systèmes nationaux de contrôle des denrées alimentaires.

Ces 50 dernières années, les progrès réalisés sur les plans scientifique et technologique dans les domaines de l'agriculture et de l'alimentation ont eu des répercussions profondes sur la production, la transformation, le stockage, la distribution et la consommation des aliments. On craint aujourd'hui que cette évolution, conjuguée avec la pollution de l'environnement, ait des conséquences en ce qui concerne la qualité et l'innocuité des aliments. Le développement rapide des systèmes internationaux de distribution et d'échange de denrées vivrières accroît les risques de propagation des maladies d'origine alimentaire et des zoonoses.

Chaque pays doit disposer d'une infrastructure de contrôle des aliments capable d'assurer une protection maximale du consommateur et de favoriser des pratiques satisfaisantes en matière de commerce de produits alimentaires. Une telle infrastructure, ainsi qu'un système fiable de certification et d'inspection des exportations, peut permettre d'ajouter de la valeur aux produits exportés. Les éléments fondamentaux d'une législation et d'une réglementation sur les systèmes de contrôle des aliments, d'inspection et d'analyse, de certification et de notification d'information, de contrôle de la qualité et de coopération sont décrits. La FAO assure une formation et une aide aux pays en développement dans ces domaines.

Le Comité mixte FAO/OMS d'experts des additifs alimentaires a été fondé en 1956 pour conseiller les Etats Membres de la FAO et de l'OMS sur la pureté et l'innocuité des additifs alimentaires, substances chimiques utilisées pour conserver aux aliments leurs qualités physiques et nutritionnelles. Le Comité évalue également les contaminants et résidus naturels et industriels provenant des substances chimiques biologiquement actives utilisées pour la production agricole. Les contaminants (chimiques et biologiques) alimentaires, outre qu'ils présentent un danger pour la santé, ont un impact économique négatif. En 1975, la FAO, l'OMS et le Programme des Nations Unies pour l'environnement (PNUE) ont lancé le Programme de surveillance de la contamination des denrées alimentaires.

Dans de nombreuses villes, des aliments et des boissons crus, cuits, partiellement transformés, froids ou chauds sont vendus dans la rue. La FAO a réalisé des études dans les pays en développement pour évaluer l'importance sur les plans social, économique et nutritionnel le rôle de cette forme traditionnelle de vente de nourriture. Les projets de la FAO aident les autorités locales a améliorer l'infrastructure existante (notamment grâce à la fourniture d'eau potable, a la résolution du problème des déchets et à la mise en place d'installations sanitaires pour les vendeurs), en renforçant les contrôles officiels sur la qualité et l'innocuité des aliments vendus sur la voie publique et en inculquant aux personnes concernées des principes élémentaires d'hygiène.

Programa integral de la FAO sobre control de alimentos

El suministro de alimentos inocuos y de buena calidad es un derecho del consumidor y una cuestión clave para el comercio y el desarrollo agrícola sostenible. Las Directrices de las Naciones Unidas para la protección del consumidor facilitaron un marco para la elaboración de las políticas y la legislación de los Gobiernos e instaron a la aprobación de las normas del Codex. Para que los países en desarrollo puedan participar en las actividades internacionales de normalización, el Grupo de Control Alimentario y Protección del Consumidor proporciona asistencia para mejorar los sistemas nacionales de control de los alimentos.

En los últimos 50 años los progresos realizados en la ciencia y la tecnología de la agricultura y de los alimentos han tenido profundas repercusiones en la producción, elaboración, almacenamiento, distribución y consumo de lo; alimentos. Estos cambios, sumados a la contaminación ambiental, han aumentado la preocupación del público por la calidad e inocuidad de los alimentos. La rápida expansión de los sistemas internacionales de distribución de alimentos y del comercio aumenta el potencial de difusión de las enfermedades trasmitidas por los alimentos y de la zoonosis.

Todos los países necesitan una infraestructura que pueda asegurar la máxima protección del consumidor y promover prácticas leales en el comercio de los alimentos. Dicha infraestructura, acompañada de una inspección y certificación fidedignas de las exportaciones, puede aumentar el valor de los productos exportados. Los componentes fundamentales de un sistema de control de alimentos consisten en leyes y reglamentos, inspección y análisis, certificación y presentación de informes, información, control de la calidad y colaboración. En estas esferas la FAO facilita a los países en desarrollo capacitación y asistencia.

El Comité Mixto FAO/OMS de Expertos en Aditivos Alimentarios (JECFA) se fundó en 1956 para asesorar a los países miembros de la FAO y de la OMS sobre la pureza e inocuidad de los aditivos alimentarios, sustancias químicas que se utilizan para conservar la calidad física y nutricional de los alimentos. El JECFA evalúa también los contaminantes ambientales e industriales y los residuos de sustancias químicas biológicamente activas que se utilizan en la producción agrícola. Los contaminantes (químicos y biológicos) de los alimentos afectan a la salud pública y tienen un efecto económico negativo. En 1975, la FAO, la OMS y el Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el medio ambiente (PNUMA) comenzaron el programa de control de la contaminación de los alimentos.

En muchas ciudades se venden en la calle bebidas y alimentos crudos, cocinados, semielaborados, calientes o fríos. La FAO ha realizado estudios en los países en desarrollo para evaluar la importancia socioeconómica y nutricional de esta actividad. La FAO proyecta ayudar a las autoridades locales a mejorar su infraestructura (por ejemplo, suministro de agua potable, servicio de recolección de residuos y lugar para la higiene personal de los vendedores), a reforzar el control oficial sobre la calidad e inocuidad de los alimentos que se venden, y capacitar en prácticas básicas de higiene a los que manipulan los alimentos.

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