Codex standards
The Codex Standard for Fermented Milks

For the Codex Alimentarius, fermented milk is a milk product obtained by fermentation of milk, which contains starter microorganisms that shall be viable, active and abundant in the product to the date of minimum durability.

Yoghurt is a category of fermented milk characterized by two specific starter cultures used for its fermentation: Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus. The requirement of viability of these microorganisms is the same than the one applied to fermented milks.

What is the Codex Alimentarius ?

The Codex Alimentarius was created in 1963 by FAO and WHO to develop international food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.

It aims at: 
  • Protecting the health of consumers
  • Ensuring fair practices in the food trade
  • Promoting the coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organisations

Progressively, from the 1960’s onwards, the Codex standards have become an integral part of the legal framework within which international trade is being facilitated through harmonization. They are now used as the benchmark in international trade disputes.

The responsibility for developing standards for specific foods or classes of food lies with the Commodity Committees. Yoghurt and live fermented milks are a matter for the Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products (CCMMP).

The adoption of the standard on fermented milks

In July 2003, the CCMMP adopted the Codex Standard for Fermented Milks (Codex Stan 243-2003)

The experts needed almost 20 years of long and hard discussions before they could agree on the properties of live fermented milks and the name of the product.

At that time, the recent scientific developments acknowledged the beneficial impact of live fermented milks on human health. The growing interest for living bacteria helped in the adoption of the standard.

Recognising the important health benefits of live, active bacteria, the Commission of the Codex Alimentarius was committed to adopting a standard which would designate the terms “yoghurts” and “fermented milks” as products containing live culture.

The denomination “yoghurt” is now protected and can not be used – except in situations related to a particular national legislation or a historical use – for products whose cultures have been inactivated by heat treatment. These one should be designated as “Heat Treated Fermented Milk”.

For the consumer, this means:

  • By the name “yoghurt” there is significance on the inherent composition and qualities of the product
  • By buying yoghurt, one can expect health benefits
  • A very old and traditional product, known for centuries for its properties and anchored in many culinary traditions is recognized through this legal framework.

Key aspects of the Codex Standard on fermented milks (CODEX STAN 243-2003)

Some definitions:

Fermented milk
is a milk product obtained by fermentation of milk... It contains starter microorganisms that shall be viable, active and abundant in the product to the date of minimum durability. This category encompasses Fermented Milks are characterized by specific starter culture(s) like yoghurt ( Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus), kefir, kumys etc...

Concentrated fermented milk is a fermented milk the protein of which has been increased prior to, or after fermentation, to a minimum of 5.6%. Concentrated Fermented Milks includes traditional products such as Stragisto (strained yoghurt), Labneh, Ymer and Ylette.

Flavoured Fermented Milks are composite milk products (see below CODEX STAN 206-1999) which contain a maximum of 50% (m/m)of non-dairy ingredients (such as nutritive and non nutritive sweeteners, fruits and vegetables as well as juices, purees, pulps, preparations and preserves derived there from, cereals, honey, chocolate, nuts, coffee, spices and other harmless natural flavouring foods) and/or flavours. The non-dairy ingredients can be mixed in prior to/or after fermentation.

Drinks Based on Fermented Milk

Essential composition and quality factors are described in the standard

Yoghurt and live fermented milks must comply with the maximum limits for contaminants and the maximum residue limits for pesticides and veterinary drugs established by the Codex Alimentarius.

Hygiene: it is recommended that the products covered by the provisions of this standard be prepared and handled in accordance with the appropriate sections of the Recommended International Code of Practice – General Principles of Food Hygiene (CAC/RCP 1-1969), the Code of Hygienic Practice for Milk and Milk Products (CAC/RCP 57-2004) and other relevant Codex texts such as Codes of Hygienic Practice and Codes of Practice. The products should comply with any microbiological criteria established in accordance with the Principles for the Establishment and Application of Microbiological Criteria for Foods (CAC/GL 21-1997).

Labelling: the name of the food shall be fermented milk or concentrated fermented milk as appropriate. However, these names may be replaced by the designations Yoghurt, Acidophilus Milk, Kefir, Kumys, Stragisto, Labneh, Ymer and Ylette, provided that the product complies with the specific provisions of the Standard. Yoghurt may be spelled as appropriate in the country of retail sale.

Heat Treated Fermented Milk: products obtained from fermented milk(s) heat treated after fermentation shall be named “Heat Treated Fermented Milk”. If the consumer would be misled by this name, the products shall be named as permitted by national legislation in the country of retail sale. In countries where no such legislation exists, or no other names are in common usage, the product shall be named “Heat Treated Fermented Milk”.

Food additives are also described in the standard.
Ave d'Auderghem 22-28
B- 1040 Brussels

T +32 2 549 50 81