Codex Alimentarius update – new ‘Food in Canada’ column by Dr. Ron Wasik
Established in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations (UN), Codex Alimentarius (CODEX) is a compilation of internationally-adopted standards for food safety and fair trade practices in food. The program is managed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) which is located in Rome, Italy. There are about 185 member-countries including Canada working on establishing global standards. People in our industry who have jobs in quality assurance and quality control will be aware of the existence of CODEX and that these international standards influence, to varying degrees, virtually every activity in our industry.
I believe all Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) programs reference CODEX directly or indirectly, reflecting the important roles CODEX plays in food safety. The GFSI program that I think is most openly allied with CODEX is the International Standards Organization with its ISO group of standards. Interestingly, ISO standards predate CODEX by almost two decades. ISO standards adopt many elements of CODEX, especially in the area of food safety. Incidentally, the distinction between these two organizations is that CODEX is a governmental organization focused on government regulatory/statutory programs while ISO is a non-government organization developing industry/marketplace programs. The applications of CODEX and ISO are both global in scope.
It was through my connection to ISO (my participation on a Standards Council of Canada’s committee: ISO/TC-37/SC-17 Management Systems for Food Safety) that in early January of this year, I received the latest version of the General Principles of Food Hygiene (GPFH) of the Codex Alimentarius. Some of revisions to the GPFH in this 35-page document will be of interest to those with close ties to food safety programs.
2020 revisions to CODEX GPFH
Let me preface my comments by saying that this latest revision of the GPFH seems better written and easier to read than the earlier versions of the same. I found it very straightforward. Here are a few of the changes in the 2020 version of the CODEX GPFH:
Decision tree: The decision tree for determining critical control points (CCPs) is gone. This move should eliminate the confusion it was causing.
Good hygiene practices: Those of us that have been around since the inception of HACCP in the 1970s can never forget the bias the program had to designate almost every risk mitigation step as a CCP. Having a dozen CCPs for one product wasn’t unusual. However, managing all these CCPs was a pain. Over the next decades, many of these CCPs were replaced by prerequisite programs, many of which contained procedures outlined in programs such as good manufacturing practice (GMP), good hygiene practices (GHP) and good agricultural practice (GAP), to name only three.
This latest revision to CODEX GPFH more openly embraces GMP, GHP and GAP programs as a legitimate part of a food safety plan. This move is in step with ISO’s operational prerequisite programs (OPRPs) outlined in the ISO 22000 standards. It is also hoped that permitting prerequisite programs to play a bigger role in food safety programs will make it easier for small and less-developed food businesses (SLDBs) to implement formalized food safety programs and also be accepted by regulators.
Small businesses: In order to make CODEX GPFH more appealing to SLDBs, this latest edition recommends “development of a HACCP-based system which is consistent with the seven principles of HACCP but does not conform to the layout or steps [of the formal program],” and recommends “applying such flexibility e.g. recording only monitoring results when there is a deviation instead of [recording] every monitoring result to reduce the unnecessary burden of record keeping…” However, SLDBs are cautioned that they are “ultimately responsible for…the production of safe food.”
Food safety culture: Food safety culture (FSC) has emerged in the past few years as a requirement of most GFSI programs after it became apparent that those companies with food safety cultures had significantly better food safety records than those that didn’t. The recently revised CODEX GPFHP places more emphasis on the need for a FSC to be at the core of a company’s food safety program.
The latest revision of the CODEX GPFH should be required reading for any quality assurance and quality control management personnel. I wasn’t able to find a link that would take readers directly to the document but you should find it by entering the following words into your browser “general principles of food hygiene (cac/rcp 1-1969).” Enjoy the read.
Dr. R.J. (Ron) Wasik, PhD, MBA, CFS, is president of RJW Consulting Canada Ltd.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org