The United States is to lead work on a document covering the prevention or reduction of ciguatera poisoning.

The plan was given the go-ahead at a recent Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods meeting.

An electronic working group, chaired by the U.S. and co-chaired by France, Spain, and Panama, will work on a proposed code of practice or guidelines for consideration at the next meeting of the committee in 2024.

In 2022, the committee established a working group chaired by the U.S. and co-chaired by the European Union to prepare a discussion paper on the topic.

Generally, codes of practice provide practical guidance or measures to reduce or prevent a hazard in food, while a guideline gives higher-level principles and approaches to addressing a particular issue.

U.S. officials said that while there were still key challenges and knowledge gaps, there was wide support to start the work as ciguatera is a major public health concern.

A recent meeting was also held for Eurocigua II, the second phase of a European project on Ciguatera. Teams from Portugal, France, the Netherlands, and Germany met in the Canary Islands in April to discuss surveillance and training.

The project has 11 partners from five EU countries and experts from the United States and Japan. It also involves the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Ciguatoxins are a class of algal toxins. They enter the food chain through the consumption of Ciguatoxin-containing algae by fish and shellfish and bio-accumulate in larger predatory fish. Ciguatoxins are not destroyed by cooking, freezing, or canning processes. More than 100 species of fish have been contaminated with Ciguatoxin, including barracuda, amberjack, grouper, and parrotfish.

Ciguatera poisoning is increasing due to factors including climate change. Symptoms appear within hours of consuming contaminated food, lasting a few days. They include vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, and dizziness. Some people suffer from itching, tingling, or blurred vision and others find cold things hot and hot items cold. Ciguatera poisoning is estimated to cause between 10,000 and 50,000 illnesses per year. Additional cases go uncounted because some people do not seek medical attention or specific test are not completed.

Other topics debated
The U.S. also requested the development of a code of practice to prevent or reduce cadmium contamination in foods but no decision was made to accept or reject this idea at the Codex meeting.

The committee heard about Brazil’s work on maximum levels of lead in soft brown, raw, and non-centrifugal sugars and ready-to-eat meals for infants and young children. Work is ongoing for fresh and dried culinary herbs and dried spices.

Attendees agreed to forward a code of practice for the prevention and reduction of mycotoxin contamination in cassava and cassava-based products to the next Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting.

A group chaired by India and co-chaired by Senegal is to look at the maximum levels of aflatoxin in RTE peanuts and the associated sampling plan over the next two years. China will prepare a discussion paper on tropane alkaloids for the committee’s next meeting.

A decision on Indonesia’s proposal to add ethylene oxide and 2-chloroethane (2-CE) to the priority list of contaminants for evaluation by JECFA was delayed until next year, so input could be requested from the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues.

Work on maximum levels for aflatoxin in paprika, ginger, black and white pepper, and turmeric and Ochratoxin A in ginger, black and white pepper, and turmeric was discontinued due to a lack of data.

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