The World Health Organization (WHO) and Codex are scheduled to hold an event next month to mark their respective anniversaries.

2023 is the 60th anniversary of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the 75th anniversary of WHO.

In 1963, following the endorsement of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WHO, the first session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission was held. Codex sets international standards for food safety and quality, to protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade.

While an agenda is not yet available, the event will take place in a hybrid format with in-person and online participation possible. It is set for July 13 at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève in Geneva, Switzerland.

Building towards new estimates
In related news, WHO’s Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) is to hold its fifth meeting virtually on June 15 and 19.

The main aims are to agree on the final list of considered hazards and associated health outcomes for the 2025 estimates on the burden of foodborne diseases and on a revised timeline for actions toward their publication.

Experts will discuss various methodological aspects for predicting the burden of foodborne infections, receive updates on the status of source attribution studies through expert elicitation and share updates on ongoing and planned country activities. 

The previous meeting was in November 2022. FERG published estimates in 2015 using 2010 data. Updated figures will be released in 2025 but the reference year has not yet been decided, with the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic being taken into account.

Focus on food standards for World Food Safety Day
Announcement of these events comes shortly after WHO and FAO marked World Food Safety Day on June 7.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said every day an estimated 1.6 million people become sick from eating unsafe food, many of them small children.

“On World Food Safety Day, we recognize the critical role that governments and the private sector have in maintaining food standards, nutrition, and quality to protect health and well-being. This year we celebrate 60 years of Codex Alimentarius, established by FAO and WHO as the international standard-setting body, to protect consumer health and promote fair trade practices for food. Food systems are changing quickly and food safety faces increasing challenges due to climate change, population growth, new technologies, globalization and industrialization. Together, let’s make food safe today and every day because food standards save lives,” he said.

Over 200 diseases from diarrhea to cancers are caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals.

QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General said the fifth World Food Safety Day was an important opportunity to raise awareness and inspire action.

“There cannot be food security and nutrition for all, without food safety. If a product is not safe to eat, we cannot call it food. Agrifood systems need to produce increasing amounts of safe and nutritious food to meet the needs of a rising global population. Food can only be safe if every person involved in its production, distribution, and preparation ensures its safety,” he said.

Help to meet standards
FAO has launched a website to help the sector meet international food hygiene standards. 

Described as a “toolbox”, the site aims to protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade. The content was developed and reviewed by FAO food safety officers and the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph in Canada.  

The website includes guides to personal hygiene, such as how to educate visitors entering a food production site, the correct procedure and frequency for handwashing, and suggestions for appropriate clothing. There is a focus on small food business operators and producers in low- and middle-income countries.

Corinna Hawkes, FAO’s Director of Food Systems and Food Safety Division said: “It provides not only the internationally agreed upon principles of food safety but also sets a common language, which in turn provides a framework and a commonality within which countries can negotiate and food businesses can communicate on food safety amongst themselves.”

It is initially available in English, French, and Spanish. The plan is to collect feedback and possibly expand the toolbox to provide more in-depth guidance for other sectors, such as fisheries.

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