Quick frozen foods should be subject to more prescriptive safety rules rather than optional ones, the EU's member states said in comments on a draft international code of practice.
The comments by the 27 member states were published yesterday on a draft Codex Alimentarius food safety code for those who process and handle quick frozen products.
Codex agreements, once passed, are used as an international reference point for harmonising national legislation worldwide. One aim of Codex is to prevent countries from using food safety regulations as a barrier to trade.
The code would apply to the receiving, processing, handling, storage, transport, distribution, and retailing of quick frozen foods including fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, poultry and their products.
The latest draft on the code for quick frozen products was completed by Thailand and the US.
While the European Community's member states (ECMS) commended the two for making the document clearer and more focused, member states also criticised the many optional clauses.
"However at many occasions, the provisions are optional ('may be') when the ECMS would have preferred a more prescriptive approach ('should be')," the document stated.
For example the member states stressed that that temperature-monitoring records are generally not immediately available and that temperature should therefore be routinely checked when it is only recommended in the document in case of doubts.
"In addition, operators and official services should always have the possibility to carry out a destructive temperature measurement when they judge it appropriate," the commentary document stated.
The member states also want the definition of quick frozen foods to be clear that the minus 18°C or colder temperature should be maintained at all points along the supply chain.
Other changes the EU want include additional measures to ensure that those along the supply chain are made responsible for taking measures for protecting consumer safety.
The draft guidance as amended by the US and Thailand now incorporates good hygienic and good manufacturing practices, and the application of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles.
HACCP is an international standard for assessing food safety risks in manufacturing plants. A prerequisite programme is described in the draft, covering the essential requirements of hygiene in the production of quick frozen foods that should be in place prior to the application of HACCP.
The new draft also recognises that the quick frozen food industry can use the code for training employees.
"The application of this code by countries is likely to require modifications and amendments, taking into account local conditions and specific consumer requirements," the draft report states.
Quick freezing is a process which is carried out in such a way that the range of temperature when maximum ice crystallisation occurs is passed as quickly as possible.
The Codex Alimentarius is a global body set up by the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the World Health Organisation as a means of getting countries to adopt international food safety standards and other guidelines.
The standards are recognised as international benchmarks by one of the multilateral agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and aim to help international food trade by eliminating many of what the UN calls "unjustified technical barriers" set up by some countries.
Agreements forged at Codex meetings could eventually affect the way processors operate worldwide as they become incorporated into national laws.
The full Codex Alimentarius Commission is meeting for six days beginning 2 July in Rome, Italy.