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Simply stated, the Codex Alimentarius is a collection of standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations. Some of these texts are very general, and some are very specific. Some deal with detailed requirements related to a food or group of foods; others deal with the operation and management of production processes or the operation of government regulatory systems for food safety and consumer protection.

Codex Alimentarius on the Internet:



Codex standards usually relate to product characteristics and may deal with all government-regulated characteristics appropriate to the commodity, or only one characteristic. Maximum residue limits (MRLs) for residues of pesticides or veterinary drugs in foods are examples of standards dealing with only one characteristic. There are Codex general standards for food additives and contaminants and toxins in foods that contain both general and commodity-specific provisions. The Codex General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods covers all foods in this category. Because standards relate to product characteristics, they can be applied wherever the products are traded.

Codex methods of analysis and sampling, including those for contaminants and residues of pesticides and veterinary drugs in foods, are also considered Codex standards.

Codex codes of practice - including codes of hygienic practice - define the production, processing, manufacturing, transport and storage practices for individual foods or groups of foods that are considered essential to ensure the safety and suitability of food for consumption. For food hygiene, the basic text is the Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene, which introduces the use of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety management system. A code of practice on the control of the use of veterinary drugs provides general guidance in this area.

Codex guidelines fall into two categories:

In the cases of food additives, contaminants, food hygiene and meat hygiene, the basic principles governing the regulation of these matters are built into the relevant standards and codes of practice.

There are free-standing Codex principles covering:

Interpretative Codex guidelines include those for food labelling, especially the regulation of claims made on the label. This group includes guidelines for nutrition and health claims; conditions for production, marketing and labelling of organic foods; and foods claimed to be “halal”. There are several guidelines that interpret the provisions of the Codex Principles for Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification, and guidelines on the conduct of safety assessments of foods from DNA-modified plants and micro-organisms.

The Codex scorecard*

  • Commodity standards - 202

  • Commodity-related guidelines and codes of practice - 38

  • General standards and guidelines on food labelling - 7

  • General codes and guidelines on food hygiene - 5

  • Guidelines on food safety risk assessment - 5

  • Standards, codes and guidelines on contaminants in foods - 14

  • Standards, guidelines and other recommendations on sampling, analysis, inspection and certification procedures - 22

  • Maximum limits for pesticide residues - 2 579, covering 213 pesticides

  • Food additives provisions - 683, covering 222 food additives

  • Maximum limits for veterinary drugs in foods - 377, covering 44 veterinary drugs

    * Status as of 1 July 2005


By far the largest number of specific standards in the Codex Alimentarius is the group called “commodity standards”. The major commodities included in the Codex are:

Commodity standards tend to follow a fixed format set out in the Procedural Manual of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The format consists of the following categories of information:

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