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Codex adopts 35 international food standards

By Laura Crowley , 08-Jul-2008

Thirty-five new international food standards were adopted during last week's 31st session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, including guidelines on the use of flavourings and gluten-free products.

In the first recommendations on flavourings, Codex defined the term and advised that they be used minimally, and in regards to gluten-free products, the body dramatically reduced the approved level of gluten allowed. Other dossiers adopted at the annual meeting in Geneva included labelling guidelines, advice on mycotoxins, a standard for tomatoes, and a code of practice for the proessing and handling of quick frozen foods. Codex food safety standards and risk analysis principles are developed using scientific advice from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation. The standards are recognised as international benchmarks and help governments establish their own food policies. Defining flavourings The commission used scientific findings to establish definitions for flavourings and flavouring substances, verifying what is natural and what is synthetic. Additionally, it decided on recommendations that identify under which circumstances they should be used and suggest they are used in minimal levels so as not to be unsafe. In Europe, food additives are currently regulated by a dozen or so EU laws, but four new regulations, proposed in 2006 by Europe's law-making body, the European Commission, aim to harmonise authorisation and safety assessment procedures for Europe's internal market. The European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) is currently carrying out safety inspections on 13 flavourings. Codex also agreed to accept amendments to the international numbering system for food additives Gluten levels in gluten-free food The commission approved an accepted threshold for gluten in 'gluten free' products, in the first update to guidelines since 1983. The limit has now been hugely cut from 5g per kg (500ppm) to 20mg per kg (20 ppm) - a level that is considered to pose no risk to allergy sufferers. Tom Heilandt, senior food standards office at Codex, explained to FoodNavigator.com that this much lower level is more easily attainable than it was 25 years ago, with technological advances also allowing for more accurate detection of minute gluten traces. Labelling The group adopted guidelines for the standard for quantified labelling of prepackaged foods, which was also discussed by the Commission last year, but a decision was not reached. The amendment dossier suggested every food sold as a mixture or combination should disclose the ingoing percentage, by weight or volume, of any ingredient at the time of the manufacture of the food if their omission would mislead the consumer. The Commission determined when a product include quantitatively, saying that when a special emphasis is made on a certain ingredient through words, pictures or graphics, or when the consumer would expect the ingredient to be present, the weight or volume of said ingredient must be included. To omit it would deceive the consumer, said Codex. It also adopted the amendment to the guidelines for the production, processing, labelling and marketing of organically produced foods and the guideline amendments for use of nutrition and health claims. Mycotoxin contamination Mycotoxins in food are produced by fungal contaminants and can be genotoxic carcinogens. They continue to pose a modern day problem that the food industry must tackle on a daily basis, causing particular concern for bakery firms as they remain stable during processing and, if found in the raw grain, can reoccur in foods containing wheat flour. The EU legal limit for mycotoxins in finished products, such as bread and breakfast cereals, is 500 parts per billion. However, studies have revealed that flour may contain 750ppb. Codex adopted guidelines for the maximum levels for Ochratoxin A in raw wheat, barley and rye, as well as maximum levels for aflatoxins in almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios (for further processing and ready-to-eat). It also put together a code of practice to help manufacturers prevent the formation of toxins in figs and agreed maximum levels for 3-MCPD in liquid condiments containing acid-hydrolyzed vegetable proteins.

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