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COVID-19

A cluster of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan, China was first reported to the WHO Country Office in China on 31 December 2019. The ensuing outbreak was soon identified as being caused by a novel coronavirus. The first case outside China was reported on 13 January 2020 and the outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. On 11 February 2020 WHO announced a name for the new coronavirus disease: COVID-19. WHO said on 11 March that they had made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

The threat to food safety

The COVID-19 pandemic and the global response to it are presenting unprecedented challenges to the way we work and the mechanisms by which we ensure food safety, from global standard setting to operational oversight. Access to safe and nutritious food is at the forefront of consumers globally, with many people, irrespective of the state of development of their country, having to spend more time and effort planning and shopping for food. There is a much greater awareness of hygiene and the role it plays in disease transmission, and questions being asked as to whether food could play a role in the transmission of the virus causing COVID-19.

Global trade

Global food supply chains have also come under pressure with fears the complex interactions involving farmers, slaughterhouses, food processing plants, shipping, retailers and others would result in slowdowns due to port closures or disruptions in logistics and/or food supply caused by COVID-19 illness in workers along the long food chain.

Keeping food safe

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness primary transmitted through person-to-person contact and direct contact with respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes. There is no evidence to date of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses being transmitted via food or food packaging. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food; they need an animal or human host to multiply. It is highly unlikely that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging.

The application of sound principles of environmental sanitation, personal hygiene and established food hygiene practices will reduce the likelihood that harmful microorganisms will threaten the safety of the food supply, regardless of whether the food is sourced from intensive agriculture, small stakeholders or the wild.

The role of Codex in COVID-19

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has developed several international best practices to ensure food hygiene in general as well as when, handling meats and other foods, and to control viruses in foods. Countries are encouraged to implement these best practices.

International risk-focused and science-based Codex texts set the benchmark for food safety in global food trade. They provide a framework for the broad management principles of food safety in a transparent rules-based trading environment and reduce risks for those operating in the increasingly complex international trading system while ensuring the protection of consumer health.

Related Codex Texts

Reference Title Committee Last modified
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FR
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CXC 1-1969General Principles of Food HygieneCCFH2020
CXC 58-2005Code of Hygienic Practice for MeatCCMPH2005
CXG 26-1997Guidelines for the Design, Operation, Assessment and Accreditation of Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification SystemsCCFICS2010
CXG 47-2003Guidelines for Food Import Control SystemsCCFICS2006
CXG 79-2012Guidelines on the Application of General Principles of Food Hygiene to the Control of Viruses in FoodCCFH2012
CXG 89-2016Principles and guidelines for the exchange of information between importing and exporting countries to support the trade in foodCCFICS2016
CXG 20-1995Principles for Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification CCFICS1995
CXG 38-2001Guidelines for Design, Production, Issuance and Use of Generic Official CertificatesCCFICS2009

Impact on Codex work

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the schedule of Codex sessions for 2020 and forced us to explore different ways of maintaining the momentum of the Codex standard setting work. General Subject and Commodity Committees however remain active through their electronic working groups (EWGs). Other organs of Codex such as the Executive Committee, and Coordinating Committees are holding informal virtual meetings to exchange views on Codex business continuity taking into account the core values of Codex – inclusiveness, collaboration, consensus building and ,transparency, as well as experiences of other international organisations.

Regular updates are provided on the committee web pages - click on the abbreviation of the committee name for details. 

Meetings rescheduled due to COVID-19

News

Codex technical committees underway again with meeting of General Principles

More than a year has passed since the last time a Codex technical committee met. When the Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance ended on 13 December 2019 in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea, nobody could imagine that there would be a 14 month wait for experts to gather once again to continue their formal deliberations of Codex business. The task of kicking off the 2021 series of meetings, with plans currently for a virtual year and online sessions, has fallen to France [...]
07 February 2021

Codex technical committees ready to meet the challenge of 2021 online

This year is going to be a big challenge for the Codex system as the technical committees that were suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic prepare to operate for the first time virtually. Experiences with the smaller Executive Committee and the success of the 43rd Commission have shown that both small and large groups can be brought together on line, but how easy will it be, operating virtually, to iron out more complex, technical differences on pesticides, contaminants or [...]
28 January 2021

FAO, WHO and Codex continuing to fulfil leadership in food safety and public health

Parent bodies applaud innovation in Codex, maintaining focus and momentum during the pandemic As the 80th session of the Executive Committee of the Codex Alimentarius Commission opened online on 13 January 2021, Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General of FAO, complimented Codex on its ability to quickly adapt to new efficient and effective virtual ways of working. During the pandemic, Codex standards have provided clear, immediate and effective solutions to protect supply chains and consumers and “together we have a chance to [...]
13 January 2021

Codex Secretary Tom Heilandt looks back on 2020

As 2020 drew to a close we asked Codex Secretary Tom Heilandt to look back on the year and these are his thoughts. What has been different about 2020? Just about everything! Travel went down from maybe 50 to three times.  Physical meetings, both Codex meetings and others were “virtually” non-existent. The last time, I met Codex members was at CCEXEC78 back in February, and our last physical Codex team meeting was at the beginning of March. So, everything was different, but [...]
01 January 2021

CCNASWP addressing implementation of the Codex Strategic Plan during the pandemic

Representatives of countries of the North America and South West Pacific (NASWP) region met virtually on 23 November 2020 to update the regional work-plan for implementation of the Codex Strategic Plan until CCNASWP will reconvene, tentatively early 2022. Addressing over 25 participants, in opening remarks Vice-Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, Steve Wearne, UK, said “all Members had a voice in the adoption of the new Strategic Plan and all Codex actors now have a shared responsibility for its implementation”. Delegations [...]
26 November 2020

First virtual Commission Day 4: adopts all standards proposed and reactivates fish committee

With an audience again exceeding 500, the 43rd gathering of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, being held in three-hour sessions across six days, has completed its programme of standard adoption and approval of new work. Chairperson Guilherme Da Costa, Brazil, applauded once again the continued collaboration of Member Countries to build consensus and ensure valuable work can continue. “I thank you all for your support, your energy and usual cooperative spirit”, he said. The Commission adopted a series of standards from the Processed [...]
13 October 2020
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Key Information

  • Currently, there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19, can be transmitted by food
  • Coronavirus cannot grow on food. A virus requires a living host in order to multiply
  • The best way to avoid COVID-19 is through good hygiene habits
  • Food businesses must reinforce good hygienic practices
  • To ensure and maintain access to safe food, authorities must reinforce the implementation of existing international standards