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Contaminants

Contaminants are substances that have not been intentionally added to food. Food production processes can lead to substances entering the food at any moment: during manufacturing, handling, storage, processing or distribution. Contaminants can also enter the food from the environment. The presence of such substances in food must be monitored carefully to avoid contamination effecting the quality of the food or making the food unsafe.

The role of Codex in Contaminants

The Codex maximum level (ML) for a contaminant in a food or feed commodity is the maximum concentration of that substance recommended by the Codex Alimentarius Commission to be legally permitted in that commodity. As many contaminants occur naturally it would be impossible to impose a zero limit on these substances. To protect human health Codex works to keep these levels as low as possible based on sound scientific evidence.

The Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food (CCCF) establishes and endorses permitted maximum levels or guideline levels for contaminants and naturally occurring toxicants in food and feed. It also prepares priority lists of contaminants and naturally occurring toxicants for risk assessment by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

The CCCF considers methods of analysis and sampling for the determination of contaminants and naturally occurring toxicants in food and feed and develops and elaborates standards or codes of practice for related subjects. It also considers other matters assigned to it by the Commission in relation to contaminants and naturally occurring toxicants in food and feed.

Related Codex Texts

Reference Title Committee Last modified
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CODEX STAN 193-1995General Standard for Contaminants and Toxins in Food and FeedCCCF2018
CODEX STAN 228-2001General Methods of Analysis for ContaminantsCCMAS2004
CAC/RCP 49-2001Code of Practice Concerning Source Directed Measures to Reduce Contamination of Foods with ChemicalsCCCF2001
CAC/RCP 77-2017Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Arsenic Contamination in RiceCCCF2017
CAC/RCP 78-2017Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Mycotoxins in Spices CCCF2017

News

Experts meet for deep dive on ciguatera fish poisoning

Experts met in FAO on 19 – 23 November 2018 to discuss ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) and develop scientific advice for the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food. CFP is one of the most common foodborne illnesses related to seafood consumption. While CFP has been known about for centuries, its true incidence remains unclear. In 2000 it was estimated that 10 000 – 50 000 people per year suffer from this illness. Markus Lipp, Senior Food Safety Officer, and FAO Secretary [...]
30 November 2018

Webinar addressing food safety in a nuclear emergency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is holding a webinar on “Food Safety in a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency” on 23 October 2018 at 11:00-14:30 UTC. The web-based discussion aims to help national experts be prepared in case of an emergency involving a significant release of radioactive material into the environment that makes water, local produce, milk from grazing animals and other foods unsafe for consumption. The IAEA safety standards call for [...]
19 October 2018

Comment on the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food 12th Session

Dr Martin Slayne -  International Council of Grocery Manufacturers Associations Global Head Scientific & Regulatory Affairs The Hershey Company  The Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food (CCCF) provides a global forum for governments to harmonize regulatory management measures, based on common science, risk assessment and best practices. At the recent 12th meeting of the Committee, good progress was made in some areas, although a key observation when discussing the setting of Maximum Levels for contaminants was an increasing pattern of country [...]
26 March 2018
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Key Facts

  • Contaminants are substances that have not been intentionally added to food
  • Contaminants can be present in food as a result of the various stages of production, packaging, transport or storage. They can also result from environmental contamination
  • Codex has established 17 (MLs) for contaminants including mycotoxins (poisonous funghi produced by certain chemical compounds), metals (such as arsenic, lead and mercury) and radionuclides (e.g. in drinking water)
  • Codex MLs ensure food does not contain contaminants at levels which could threaten human health
  • JECFA meets twice a year to evaluate contaminants in food

Five keys to safer food