This article was published in World Food Regulation Review, April 2021, p. 32-34.
The Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods held its 16th session (CCCF16) in Utrecht (The Netherlands) from 17 to 21 April 2023 and decided to adopt its meeting report on 26 April 2023 by e-means. The CCCF16 was very productive in terms of adoption or making progress on regulating maximum limits (ML) for agriculture, environmental, industrial or process-neoformed contaminants.
It adopted new maximum levels (e.g.; Lead in sorts of sugars and in ready-to-eat meals for infants and young children; Ochratoxin A (OTA) and Total Aflatoxins (AFT)in some dried spices such as chilli pepper and nutmeg) and two important new texts, such as the Code of Practice on the Prevention of Mycotoxins in Cassava and Cassava Based Products. It also discussed a revised priotity list for JECFA evaluation including for PFOA/PFAS and discussed, but didn’t conclude, for Acrylamide and Ethylene Oxide.
The 16th session of the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Contaminants in Foods convened in person for the first time in person since 2019. It was preceded by virtual working group meetings on (a) Review of Codex standards for contaminants (Agenda Item 14); (b) Follow-up to the outcomes of JECFA evaluations and joint FAO/WHO expert consultations (Agenda Item 15); (c) priority list of contaminants for evaluation by JECFA (Agenda Item 16); (d) Guidance on data analysis for development of maximum levels and for improved data collection (Agenda Item 12); and, (e) Maximum levels for lead in certain food categories (Agenda Item 5). It also held inSession Working Groups on (a) Sampling plans for total aflatoxins in certain cereals (Agenda Item 7); (b) Guidance on data analysis for development of maximum levels and for improved data collection (Agenda Item 12), as a continuation from the virtual meeting; and (c) Review of staple food-contaminant combinations for future work of CCCF (Agenda Item 13).
New Standards for final adoption by CAC
CCCF16 is sending new standards for final adoption at the next Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC46) in November (see https://www.fao.org/fao-who-codex-alimentarius/committees/cac/meetings/en/). Indeed, CCCF16 concluded its work on MLs for (a) Lead, at 0,15 mg/kg in soft brown, raw, and non-centrifugal sugars (applicable to the whole and for products covered by CXS 212) and at 0,02 mg/kg in ready-to-eat meals for infants and young children (applicable to the whole and for products covered by covered by CXS 73); (b) Ochratoxin A, at 20 rig/kg (or ppb) in whole/powder/crushed/ground Chili pepper, paprika, nutmeg used as dried/dry spices; (c) Total Aflatoxins, at 20 rig/kg (or ppb) in whole/powder/crushed/ground Chili pepper, nutmeg, used as dried/dry spices.
CCCF16 concluded its work on two important texts: first, it adopted a Code Of Practice For The Prevention And Reduction Of Mycotoxin Contamination In Cassava And Cassava Based Products, thanks to the leadership of Nigeria and Ghana. ‘Steaming’ was added as a post-harvest mitigation treatment. Second, it adopted Sampling Plans For Total Aflatoxins In Certain Cereals And Cereal-Based Products Including Foods For Infants And Young Children (with significant clarifications on performance criteria of methods of analysis for combined analytes; and subject to endorsement by CCMAS42) (see https://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/meetings/detail/en/?meet-ing=CCMAS&session=42).
New work or continuation of existing work
CCCF16 decided to start new work on a Code Of Practice For The Prevention Or Reduction Of Ciguatera Poisoning which has become a global health issue with increased prevalence due to factors that include climate change and therefore a new EWG chaired by the USA and co-chaired by France, Spain, and Panama will work on a draft text.
CCC16 agreed to continue the work (by reconvening EWGs) on (a) MLs for Lead for culinary herbs (fresh/ dried) and spices (dried); (b) sampling plans for the agreed MLs on OTA and AFT in the spices where MLs were adopted at the session; (c) a proposal for a general guidance on data analysis for ML development and improved data collection with EWG chaired by the EU, co-chaired by Japan, the Netherlands and USA, including some priority lists for submitting data to WHO GEMS/Foods; (d) further elaboration on the discussion paper about pyrrolizidine alkaloids;
(e) acrylamide in foods, with a new EWG chaired by India, based on past JECFA evaluations (2005, 2011), taking into account more recent evaluations, to look into the feasibility of establishing MLs or proposing other risk management measure(s), such as possible revision of the existing Code of practice for the reduction of acrylamide in foods (CXC 67 – see https://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/sh-proxy/en/?lnk=1burl=https%253A%252F%252Fworkspace.fao.org%252Fsites%252Fcodex%252FStandards%252FCX-C%2B67-2009%252FCXP_067e.pdf).
On the regular review of codex standards for contaminants and discussions on the annual updates of priority lists, CCCF16 agreed to:
- establish a new EWG to develop a discussion paper on the review of the Code of Practice for The Prevention and Reduction of Aflatoxin Contamination in Peanuts (CXC 55: https://www.fao.org/fao-who-codex-alimentarius/sh-proxy/en/?lnk=1burl=https%253A%252F%252Fworkspace.fao.org%252Fsites%252Fcodex-%252FStandards%252FCXC%2B55-2004%252FCX-P_055e.pdf);
- establish a new EWG to develop a discussion paper on the review of the Code of Practice for the Reduction of Aflatoxin B1 in Raw Materials and Supplemental Feedingstuffs for Milk-Producing Animals (CXC 45: https://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/ sh-proxy/en/?lnk=1burl=https%253A%252F%252F-workspace.fao.org%252Fsites%252Fcodex%252FStan-dards%252FCXC%2B45-1997%252FCXP_045e.pdf);
- to reconvene a pre-CCCF17 session WG to consider comments received on priorities for review of existing Codex standards for contaminants and make recommendations for consideration by CCCF17.
CCCF16 also agreed (a) not to add any additional standards for inclusion in the high priority list; (b) that all standards in ‘List B’ could be reviewed by the WG Chair in advance of the next circular letter being issued to ensure that each was clearly recommended for re-evaluation by a member country, CCCF or CAC; and (c) to continue with the annual case-by-case evaluation of standards in the high priority list to propose for possible review.
Postponing some work
CCCF16 agreed to postpone some discussions on proposed options for an ML of Total Aflatoxins in Ready-to-Eat (RTE) Peanuts (and its associated sampling plan) to an EWG to prepare a proposal on a clear definition for RTE peanuts for discussion at the next session (CCCF17). Should agreement be reached on such a definition of RTE peanuts, the Committee will develop further ML proposals for RTE peanuts and associated sampling plans for consideration at the after next session (CCCF18), (see REP22/CF15, paragraph 170, 177 and 180(iii) – https://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/sh-proxy/en/?lnk =1burl=https%253A%252F%252Fworkspace.fao.org%252Fsites%252Fcodex%252FMeetings%252F-CX-735-15%252FREPORT%252FFINAL%252520RE-PORT%252FREP22_CF15e.pdf).
CCCF16 agreed to postpone the discussion on the identification of staple food-contaminant combinations for further exploration by CCCF and revisit this topic in 3 years time, despite general support for that work (especially expressed at CCCF15).
Revised priority list for JECFA evaluations and discussion on Acrylamide, Ethylene Oxide and PFAS
CCCF16 agreed upon a revised Priority List of Contaminants For Evaluation By JECFA; including (a) Dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs, for a full toxicological and exposure assessment to update the 2001 JECFA assessment and incorporate data on developmental effects from in utero exposures); (b) Arsenic (inorganic and organic), for an evaluation focusing on non-cancer effects (neurodevelopmental, immunological and cardiovascular) to inform possible future risk management needs. (c) Perfluoroalkyl substances (e.g., PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, PFHxS) also called PFAS, for a full evaluation (toxicological and exposure assessment); (d) Thallium, for a full evaluation (toxicological and exposure assessment) due to its possible presence in brassica-containing foods, including baby foods; (e) Scopoletin, for a full evaluation (toxicological and exposure assessment) for its presence in fermented noni juice, with the understanding that Codex members concerned by this contaminant would generate and submit data to support such safety evaluation by JECFA.
On Ethylene Oxide (EtO) and 2-Chloroethanol (2-CE), CCCF16 agreed to defer to next year the decision as to whether they should be added to the JECFA priority list, while requesting clarification from the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues (CCPR) on whether EtO and 2-CE meet the Codex definition of pesticide and whether coordination of the risk assessment between JECFA and JMPR would be required to evaluate EtO and 2-CE as a contaminant. It was also agreed to inform CCFA of this decision as EtO can potentially be found as an impurity in certain food additives. The Committee noted the various sources of EtO and 2-CE in the food chain, from permitted (IPPC/FAO recommended) uses as a fumigation pesticide, or its presence as an impurity in food additives or from possible other environmental or residue sources.
CCCF16 also requested JECFA Secretariat to issue a call for data on cadmium and lead in quinoa and quinoa-based products, including foods for infants and young children; and prepare an analysis of the new data in a discussion paper for consideration at the next session (CCCF17).
CCCF16 encouraged Members and Observers to submit data on Lead in bentonite so that data availability could be confirmed at CCFA54 in order to proceed with the establishment of new specifications. With regards to the follow-up work to the outcomes of existing JECFA evaluations and FAO/WHO expert consultations, CCCF16 agreed (a) to establish an EWG, chaired by China to prepare a discussion paper on tropane alkaloids to look into the need and feasibility of possible follow-up actions for consideration by CCCF17; and (b) to reconsider the need and feasibility of possible follow-up actions on ergot alkaloids and trichothecenes (T-2, HT-2 and DAS) at CCCF17; and to reconvene, as necessary, a dedicated in-sessionWG at CCCF17, chaired by EU.
Discontinuation of other work
CCCF16 agreed to discontinue completely its work on (a) MLs for Ochratoxin A in ginger, black and white pepper and turmeric due to the lack of quantified data; and on (b) MLs for Total Aflatoxins for ginger, paprika, black and white pepper and turmeric due to the lack of quantified data.
On another note, the Secretariat highlighted that, within the framework of the monitoring the use and impact of Codex standards, the Codex Secretariat was working on a case study on the use and impact of the Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Mycotoxin Contamination in Cereals (CXC 51: https://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/ sh-proxy/en/?lnk=1&url=https%253A%252F%252F-workspace.fao.org%252Fsites%252Fcodex%252FStan-dards%252FCXC%2B51-2003%252FCXC_051e.pdf) which was linked to the discussion in CCCF on the forward plan and the implementation of codes of practice (CoPs) vis-à-vis the development and enforcement of maximum levels (MLs).
The Codex secretariat was also asked to explain the difference between a Codex Code of Practice and Codex Guidelines. It has become common practice that codes are developed to provide more practical guidance/measures to reduce or prevent a particular hazard in food, whereas a guideline is generally developed to provide higher level principles and approaches/frameworks to address a particular issue. Generally, CCCF has tended to develop Codes of Practice. The Secretariat proposed that, for the moment, the project document consider both as an option to be further discussed by the EWG elaborating the text at stake
Next meeting (CCCF17) to be held in about one year’s time, location to be further confirmed.
More information about the CCCF16 meeting and its working documents are available here: https://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/meetings/detail/ en/?meeting=CCCF&session=16
Final report of the session will be posted here: https://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/meetings/en/.