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codexalimentarius > Themes > 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


Codex adopts code of practice to reduce exposure to contaminants in refined oils

The COP is intended to provide guidance to reduce the formation of 3-MCPDE and GE in refined oils and food products made with these oils by offering good management practices for application by national authorities, producers, manufacturers and other relevant bodies.   The forty-second Codex Alimentarius Commission held in Geneva, Switzerland 8-12 July 2019, adopted a Code of Practice (COP) for the reduction of 3-Monochloropropane-1,2- diol esters (3-MCPDE) and Glycidyl Esters (GE) in refined oils and food products made with refined oils. The [...]
08 August 2019

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
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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