Codex strengthens food-safety regulations

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The Codex Alimentarius Commission, jointly run by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), on July 4 announced new food-safety regulations, including the maximum level of melamine in liquid milk formula for babies, and new food-safety standards on seafood, melons, dried figs and food labeling.

Two years ago, the Codex Commission adopted a maximum melamine level of 1 mg/kg for powdered infant formula and of 2.5 mg/kg for other foods and animal feed. The Commission has now set a maximum limit of 0.15 mg/kg for melamine in liquid infant milk. Melamine is used to make dishware and kitchenware, among other industrial applications. The new limit will help governments protect consumers by determining if detected levels of melamine result from unavoidable melamine contamination that does not cause health problems or from deliberate adulteration.

Aflatoxins, a group of mycotoxins produced by molds, are toxic and are known to be carcinogenic. They can be found in a variety of products, such as dried fruits, nuts, spices and cereals at high levels if the produce is not stored properly. The Commission now agreed a safe maximum limit of 10 mg/kg for dried figs, together with details on how test sampling should be conducted.

An emerging public health issue relates to the increased popularity of pre-cut melon slices. Exposed pulp of the fruit can become a breeding ground for bacteria. This has been linked to life-threatening Salmonella and Listeria outbreaks. The Commission recommended that pre-cut melons should be wrapped or packaged and refrigerated as soon as possible and distributed at temperatures of 4° C or less. Cooling and cold-storing was recommended as soon as possible after harvest, while knife blades used for cutting or peeling should be disinfected on a regular basis.

Food hygiene in seafood, particularly for mollusks, such as mussels and oysters, have become a major food-safety concern. The Commission adopted a set of preventive hygiene measures aimed to control foodborne viruses. The Commission noted that the main hazard for the production of mollusks, such as oysters and mussels, was the biological contamination of the waters in which they grow. It is therefore important to ensure the seawater quality of growing areas. When there is a likelihood or evidence of viral contamination, closure of the area, destruction of contaminated mollusks and/or heat treatment before consumption of already harvested mollusks is recommended.

Codex recommended that food manufacturers across the world label nutritional content on their products to ensure that consumers are better informed; the recommendation is in line with WHO’s Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health and is a major step forward in promoting healthy eating worldwide.

Source: World Health Organization