The Codex Alimentarius of Pulses

Did you know that pulses have their own food standards?

The Codex Alimentarius is a food code established in 1963 by FAO and WHO which sets international standards. For over 50 years Codex Alimentarius has helped ensure food safety, quality and fairness in international trade. FAO and WHO member states not only participate in drafting Codex standards, but in many cases, their national and regional laws and norms are based on them.

Consequently, consumers can trust the safety and quality of the food products they buy.

The Codex Alimentarius of certain pulses, CODEX STAN 171-1989, applies to whole, shelled or split pulses including beans, lentils, peas, chick peas, field beans and cow peas, and it outlines fundamental characteristics pulses should have in order to ensure  the quality and  safety of these products. Some of the features highlighted are:

Essential Composition and Quality Factors

Pulses should be safe and suitable for human consumption and must be free from abnormal flavours, odours, living insects and filth (impurities of animal origin, including dead insects) in amounts which may represent a hazard to human health.

They should not contain more than 1% of extraneous matter, i.e. mineral or organic matter such as dust twigs or seedcoats and should be free from toxic or noxious seeds such as Crotalaria, Corn cockle and Castor bean, which are commonly recognized as harmful to health.


The General Standard for Contaminants and Toxins in Food and Feed (CODEX STAN 193-1995) sets the maximum levels for heavy metals in pulses. For example, the maximum level for lead in pulses is 0.2ppm. Pulses should comply with the maximum pesticide residue level, established by the Codex Almentarius Commission.


Pulses should be prepared and handled in accordance with the appropriate sections of the  General Principals of Food Hygiene (CAC/RCP 1-1969), Codes of Hygienic Practice as well as other relevant Codes of Practice.

They should be free from parasites and from micro-organisms in amounts, which may represent a hazard to health.


Pulses shall be packaged in containers which will safeguard the hygienic, technological, nutritional and organoleptic (their taste, colour, odour, and feel) qualities. The containers, including packaging material, should be made of substances which are safe and suitable for their intended use. They should not impart any toxic substance or undesirable odour or flavour to the product. When pulses are packaged in sacks, these must be clean, sturdy and strongly sewn or sealed.


In addition to the requirements of the Codex General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods, the following applies:

The product name, which is shown on the label, should refer to the commercial type of the pulse. Information for non-retail containers shall either be given on the container or in accompanying documents, except that the name of the product, lot identification and the name and address of the manufacturer or packer shall appear on the container.

Methods of analysis & sampling

Visual examination can help identify various defects of pulses. This can include seeds with serious defects which, for example, have been affected by pests, seeds with slight defects, e.g. those which have not yet reached normal development, or broken pulses. Other sampling criteria include seed discoloration and presentation. A percentage limit for defects and seed discoloration serves as a guideline to help ensure that a certain amount of defective or discoloured pulses is not exceeded.

With its standards, the Codex Alimentarius helps to monitor and increase the quality and safety of pulses in order to protect consumer health and to promote fair practices in food trade for a sustainable future for all. 


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