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codexalimentarius > Themes > Contaminants

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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CXS 193-1995General Standard for Contaminants and Toxins in Food and FeedCCCF2018
CXS 228-2001General Methods of Analysis for ContaminantsCCMAS2004
CXC 49-2001Code of Practice Concerning Source Directed Measures to Reduce Contamination of Foods with ChemicalsCCCF2001
CXC 77-2017Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Arsenic Contamination in RiceCCCF2017
CXC 78-2017Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Mycotoxins in Spices CCCF2017

News

Understanding acrylamide

Earlier this week there were stories in the press that the UK Food Standards Agency is warning that overcooked starchy foods can contain acrylamide, a chemical liked to cancer. Risks during high temperature cooking Recent concern over the presence of acrylamide in food dates from 2002. Scientists reported that up to “mg/kg” quantities of acrylamide could be formed in carbohydrate-rich foods during high-temperature cooking, e.g. during frying, baking, roasting, toasting and grilling.  Acrylamide (or acrylic amide) is a chemical compound with the chemical [...]
30 January 2017
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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