Codex Alimentarius Commission - Geneva 14-18 July 2014

The United Nations food standards body Codex Alimentarius Commission is meeting in Geneva this week to examine food safety and quality standards.

Charged with protecting consumer health and ensuring fair practices in the food trade, the Codex Alimentarius is a joint initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Decisions taken at the 37th session of the Commission will be published below.


Maximum Residue Levels for Pesticides


Pesticides are chemicals used to kill insects, weeds and other pests to prevent them from damaging crops. Even when used according to best practices, low levels of residues of pesticides can end up in food. In order to ensure that such residues do not cause harm to people's health and based on risk assessments provided by a group of independent international experts (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on Pesticide Residues, JMPR), the Codex Alimentarius Commission recommends maximum residue limits for the amount of a pesticide in a specific food, e.g. a limit of 0.02 mg/kg of bananas or coffee beans for the weed killer diquat, or a limit of 0.6 mg/kg in plums for propiconazole used to prevent mould growth.

Maximum Levels for Fumonisins in Maize and Maize Products

Fumonisins are toxins produced by moulds growing on maize both in the field and after harvesting. Humidity, inadequate storage and insect damage can all increase the risk of fumonisin-producing moulds. The toxins have been reported in maize crops worldwide and have a negative effect on human and animal health. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has set maximum levels for the presence of fumonisins at 4 mg/kg in raw maize grain and 2 mg /kg in maize flour and maize meal.

Maximum Levels for Inorganic Arsenic in Polished Rice 

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the Earth's crust. It is present in many foods due to absorption from the soil and water. Rice in particular can take up more arsenic than other foods and due to its high consumption can contribute significantly to arsenic exposure. Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking-water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with developmental effects, heart disease, diabetes, and damage the nervous system and brain. To protect consumers from excessive exposure, the Codex Alimentarius Commission recommends that the level of arsenic in rice should not exceed 0.2 mg/kg.

Maximum Levels for Lead in Infant Formula

Lead is a chemical that exists in the environment—in the air, water, plants, etc. If humans consume too much lead it is detrimental to their health. Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead. They can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system, which can diminish their ability to learn. Infant formula contaminated with lead represents a particular risk because of the volume that infants consume. Levels of lead in infant formula can be controlled by sourcing raw materials from areas where lead is less present. The Codex Alimentarius Commission recommends that no more than 0.01 mg per kg should be permitted in infant formula as consumed.

Maximum Levels for Food Additives


Additives are substances added to food or animal feed for a technological function, such as preservatives to keep food fresh for longer, antioxidants to stop food from becoming rancid and stabilisers to help mix ingredients. Additives also comprise colours, flavours and sweeteners. The safety of food additives is evaluated by an independent international expert committee (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, JECFA) before their use in food can be recommended. Based on JECFA's safety assessments, the Codex Alimentarius Commission recommended a large number of maximum use levels of specific food additives in various foods, such as fresh pasta, frozen or smoked fish, frozen or fermented vegetables, and powdered infant formula, to assure consumers' health.

Standards for Passion Fruit, Durian and Okra


The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted new quality standards for passion fruit, durian and okra to ensure they reach the consumer in an acceptable condition after preparation and packaging, which includes being clean, free from pests or damage from heat or cold, and with an appropriate degree of development or ripeness. The standards also set out minimum weights permitted for sizing purposes as well as recommendations on labeling.

Standard for Fresh and Quick Frozen Raw Scallop Products


Water and phosphates are added to some forms of quick frozen scallop meat to keep it moist and maintain flavour, but they can also increase the product’s weight and lead to unfair trade practices. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted a new standard for fresh and quick frozen raw scallop products that sets out recommendations including storage temperatures, hygiene and handling practices, labeling, and permitted levels of added water, phosphates and salt. It recommends no more than 2200 mg/kg of phosphates should be present in processed scallop meat. Whole scallops (with shell and viscera attached) are already covered by an existing Standard for Live and Raw Bivalve Molluscs.

Veterinary Drugs

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has recommended that, due to potential adverse effects on human health, certain veterinary drugs should not be used in food-producing animals. The drugs include some antimicriobials and growth promoters. If given to food-producing animals, residual amounts of these drugs can remain in the meat, milk, eggs, or honey they produce.

Code of Hygienic Practice for Spices and Dried Aromatic Herbs

Products such as pepper, oregano and thyme go through a long process of primary production, processing (e.g. drying), packaging, storage and transportation before they reach the consumer. This exposes them to potential contamination with microbes (e.g. Salmonella, Clostridium), with chemicals (e.g. pesticides, heavy metals), and physical contamination (e.g. with stones, glass). The safety of herbs and spices can also be affected by certain moulds that produce toxins. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted a new code of hygienic practice that will help minimize contamination, at all stages of the production, to assure that the spices that reach the consumer are safe. The code includes recommendations on the location of production sites, personnel health and hygiene, equipment, storage and transportation.

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is charged with protecting consumer health and ensuring fair practices in the food trade.