Microbiological criteria for foods in international trade are addressed in the joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) food standards program, as implemented by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC 1997, 2013). The program, established in 1962 (the same year as the establishment of the ICMSF), was the direct result of conflict between national food legislation and the general requirements of the main food markets of the world. Serious non-tariff obstacles to trade were caused by differing national food legislation.
At that time, the Commission’s objectives were to develop international food standards, codes of practice and guidelines, anticipating that their general adoption would help to remove and prevent non-tariff barriers to food trade. Since the 1990s, risk analysis has developed within the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) as the agreed framework for its work.
In the process, FAO and WHO convened expert consultations for instance to address the three components of risk analysis (i.e., risk assessment, risk management and risk communication) and to develop specific guidance on the various stages of risk assessment (i.e. hazard characterization, exposure assessment and risk characterization).
Risk analysis is now considered to be an integral part of the decision-making process of Codex. In 1999, the CAC adopted the Principles and Guidelines for the Conduct of Microbiological Risk Assessment (CAC 1999) and subsequently adopted the Principles and Guidelines for the Conduct of Microbiological Risk Management (CAC 2007a). Codex develops and reviews standards and codes on an ongoing basis. Several aspects of food control are covered in Codex standards and Codes of Practice, including composition, labelling, additives, and hygiene.
Subsidiary bodies of the Commission, the Codex committees, develop the standards and codes. Although the period from drafting a standard or code to its adoption at times is rather lengthy, the system has worked well, and many robust international food standards and codes of practice have been established. The Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) has the major responsibility for all provisions on food hygiene in Codex documents, including microbiological criteria and codes of hygienic practice (effectively, good hygienic practices (GHPs)).
The CCFH needs expert advice in dealing with highly specialized microbiological matters and especially in developing microbiological criteria. Over the 50 years of its existence, such advice has been extensively provided by the ICMSF through its many publications on sampling plans and microbiological criteria, HACCP, the principles for the establishment and application of microbiological criteria for foods, microbial ecology in foods and many other expertise areas relevant for Codex work