Understanding the Codex Alimentarius

Learn about what the Codex Alimentarius is, who uses it, its importance, risks, types, and challenges.

a food safety inspector checking drink quality to comply with codex alimentarius

What is the Codex Alimentarius?

Codex Alimentarius, or the “Food Code,” is a set of international food safety and quality standards designed to ensure the safety and quality of food products and serve as an important tool for protecting public health and promoting fair trade practices in the food industry. It was created in 1963 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Who Can Use It?

The primary users of Codex Alimentarius are governments, food producers, food processors, and food traders. Governments use this set of standards to set food safety and quality standards for their countries. Food producers, processors, and traders use Codex Alimentarius to ensure their products meet the standards set by governments. Also, it’s used by international organizations, such as the FAO and WHO, to monitor and enforce compliance with these standards.

Food Business Operators (FBOs) are also good examples of those who can use it, particularly the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan guidelines adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). This is crucial because one of the areas covered by the British Retail Consortium Global Standards (BRCGS), a set of standards created by the BRC as a trade association, is the HACCP food safety plan.

To help check an organization’s BRC standards compliance, inspectors and auditors can use a BRC food safety audit checklist to streamline their process and documentation.

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Why is Codex Alimentarius Important?

The Codex Alimentarius provides a framework for governments to ensure that food is safe and of high quality. It sets out standards for food safety, food hygiene, and food traceability. This helps protect consumers from food-borne illnesses and other health risks.

Also, it helps ensure fair practices in the food trade, establishing guidelines for food labeling, packaging, and advertising. This, in turn, ensures that consumers aren’t misled or deceived by false or misleading claims and food producers aren’t disadvantaged.

Finally, Codex Alimentarius supports the international food trade. Its standards for food safety and quality are accepted around the world. This contributes to facilitating the free flow of food between countries and helping food businesses increase their chance of having their products approved for international trade. These can then result in assisted economic growth and development.


One of the risks of not being able to properly implement the Codex Alimentarius standards in organizations is that since such guidelines can become too strict, it can also be difficult for food producers to maintain their compliance due to a number of factors. These may include economic concerns like increasing costs in maintaining systems and quality protocols. This could also lead to higher prices for consumers and a decrease in food security.

In relation to its strict implementation, Codex Alimentarius standards can also be challenging to monitor due to ever-changing consumer demands and emerging public health concerns. This could result in a lack of enforcement of the standards, which has the potential to compromise food safety and quality.

Types of Texts Under the Codex Alimentarius

To provide better context and specificity in the Codex texts, they are further classified into two main types:

  • General Standards – applicable to all products and product categories
  • Commodity Standards – applicable to specific products and food groups

The core Codex texts are the General Standards, Guidelines, and Codes of Practice. Under each of these are the following examples:

General Standards

  • General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods
  • General Standard for Food Additives (GSFA)
  • General Standard for Bottled/Packaged Drinking Waters (Other Than Natural Mineral Waters)


  • General Guidelines on Claims
  • General Principles for the Addition of Essential Nutrients to Foods
  • General Guidelines on Sampling

Codes of Practice

  • General Principles of Food Hygiene
  • Code of Practice on Good Animal Feeding
  • Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables


One of the main challenges that the food industry can experience in implementing the standards of Codex Alimentarius is that it’s not easy to ensure that all countries adhere to the same standards, as they have different laws and regulations. This can lead to discrepancies in the process, which can be difficult to resolve.

Additionally, the standards are constantly changing or being updated, which can make it difficult to keep up with the latest regulations. This can also make the monitoring process relatively costly, as it requires a lot of resources and manpower to do so. This includes conducting regular audits and inspections and hiring or contracting a third-party certification auditor.

Implementation and Monitoring

The implementation of Codex Alimentarius requires a comprehensive approach that involves all stakeholders in the food supply chain. This includes governments, food producers, food processors, retailers, and consumers. All stakeholders must be aware of the standards and regulations set and must be willing to comply with them.

Its implementation also requires the development of a monitoring system to ensure that the standards and regulations are being followed. This system should include regular inspections of food production and processing facilities, as well as regular testing of food products to ensure they meet the standards.

One way to monitor its implementation is to have a designated team or personnel responsible for tracking changes and ensuring that the standards are being met. This team or individual should be knowledgeable and equipped to be able to identify any changes that need to be made.

Another way to monitor is to use a software system that can track changes in an organization’s processes and alert the designated team or personnel when changes need to be made. This way, proper documentation can be maintained to support the needed records for Codex Alimentarius standards certification.

FAQs About the Codex Alimentarius

Codex texts are deemed voluntary since they don’t necessarily have a binding effect on a country’s food legislation. This set of international food safety standards, guidelines, and codes of practice can serve as a reference point for food trade disputes and other global food safety concerns.

Even if the standards in the Codex Alimentarius serve as a national reference on food safety, the Codex must not be used or considered as a direct substitute for a country’s laws and regulations. Instead, it should be a document that guides governments in solidifying their legislation and considering updates to be made to existing laws based on internationally recognized standards.

The Codex Alimentarius is a specific collection of international standards that focus on regulating food safety in various countries. On the other hand, the international standards created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provide guidelines for improving Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS).

The World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Agreement states that WTO members must base their SPS on international standards. With this, the WTO refers to the CAC as the organization that sets food safety standards that they can refer to.

Patricia Guevara
Article by
Patricia Guevara
Patricia Guevara is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. With her extensive content writing and copywriting experience, she creates high-quality content across a variety of relevant topics. She aims to promote workplace safety, operational excellence, and continuous improvement in her articles. She is passionate about communicating how technology can be used to streamline work processes, empowering companies to realize their business goals.