International food standards body reports new guidelines for food manufacturers

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 7th July 2009

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), which develops international food standards, has adopted more than 30 new international standards, codes of practice and guidelines to improve worldwide food safety following a week-long meeting.A brief overview of some of the new standards adopted by the Commission* can be seen below:

Reduction of Acrylamide in foods
The Commission approved measures for reducing the formation of acrylamide in foods. The Code of Practice will provide national and local authorities, manufacturers and others with guidance to prevent and reduce formation of acrylamide in potato products during all phases of the production process. The guidance includes strategies for raw materials, the addition of other ingredients; and food processing and heating.

The chemical acrylamide, first identified in food in 2002, is produced during frying, roasting and baking of carbohydrate-rich foods, such as French fries, potato crisps, coffee, biscuits, pastries and breads. Acrylamide is considered a possible human carcinogen.

Reduction of contamination with Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
The Commission adopted the first guidelines for reducing Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) intake through final food preparation. Because smoking and direct drying processes are used both in industry and in private households, the guidance can also form the basis of consumer education programs. Parts of PAH are possible human carcinogens formed during the combustion of fuel both in the smoking and in the direct drying processes involved in the preparation of foods.

Prevention of Ochratoxin A contamination in coffee
The Commission has outlined guidance to enable coffee producing countries to develop and implement their own national programmes for the prevention and reduction of Ochratoxin A (OTA) contamination. OTA is a fungal toxin also considered a possible human carcinogen.

Powdered Follow-up Formulae
In the wake of the melamine scandal in China last year, guidelines for infant food have been tightened – including establishing a new maximum level for melamine in food and feed.

“In the last few years, high levels of melamine have been added illegally to food and feed products, causing illness and death,” the Commission explained. “Because it has many industrial uses, melamine may be found in trace amounts in the food chain due to its presence in the environment. Setting maximum limits will help governments differentiate between unavoidable melamine occurrence and the deliberate adulteration of food and feed.”

The Commission adopted criteria for salmonella and other bacteria in powdered follow-up formulae for children six months of age or older and for special medical purposes for young children. A bacterium found to be “of special concern” was E.sakazakii.

Follow-up formulae should only be used for the intended target population, CAC added. Unfortunately, they are often consumed by babies younger than six months of age. The standard stresses the need to address such product misuse issues through education campaigns and training.

Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods
The Commission adopted parameters for microbiological testing and environmental monitoring for Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods. A maximum level was set for certain foods where the bacteria cannot grow, while in ready-to-eat products where growth is possible, no Listeria monocytogenes will be allowed. The parameters will help producers control and prevent contamination of Ready-to-Eat Foods with this bacterium that can result in listeriosis, a potentially fatal disease.

While healthy people rarely contract listeriosis, it can cause miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as serious and sometimes fatal infections in those with weakened immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.

The Commission also adopted regional standards for ginseng products, fermented soybean paste and gochujang.

“The standards and guidelines adopted this week will make a positive impact on the lives of people around the world,” CAC Chairperson, Karen Hulebak, said. “The Commission is working faster than ever before to address the most pressing food safety challenges we face.”

Ezzeddine Boutrif, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Director of Nutrition and Consumer Protection, noted that Codex membership now represents 99 per cent of the world’s population and the guidelines were pivotal in addressing food safety issues.

“Applying Codex standards and guidelines are an important part of ensuring that consumers in every part of the world can be protected from unsafe food,” he said.

Other new work proposals adopted by the Commission include:

* Principles and guidelines to assist governments in the development and operation of comprehensive national food control systems that protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade;
* Practices to control viruses in food, especially norovirues (NoV) and hepatitis A (HAV) in fresh produce, mulluscan shell fish and ready-to-eat foods;
* Prevention of aflatoxin (toxic substances produced by moulds and known to cause cancer in animals) contamination of Brazil nuts.
* Setting maximum levels and defining sampling plans for Fumonisins, (toxic substances produced by fungi) in maize and maize products.

“We welcome the participation of more developing countries in the meeting this year which reflects global awareness of food safety issue and the impact of Codex Trust Fund,” said Dr. Jørgen Schlundt, Director of WHO’s Food Safety department.

Approximately 500 people, representing 125 countries, participated in the Commission meetings.

* The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Commission has 181 member states. More information can be found at: