The International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF, the Commission) was formed in 1962 through the action of the International Committee on Food Microbiology and Hygiene, a committee of the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS). Through the IUMS, the ICMSF is linked to the International Union of Biological Societies (IUBS) and to the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations. The activities and operation of the Commission are specified within its By-Laws.
In the 1960’s there was growing recognition of foodborne disease and greatly increased microbiological testing of foods. This, in turn, created unforeseen problems in international trade in foods. Different analytical methods, sampling plans of doubtful statistical validity were being used. Furthermore, analytical results were interpreted using different concepts of biological significance and acceptance criteria, creating confusion and frustration for both the food industry and regulatory agencies. In this environment ICMSF was founded to: (a) assemble, correlate, and evaluate evidence about the microbiological safety and quality of foods; (b) consider whether microbiological criteria would improve and assure the microbiological safety of particular foods; (c) propose, where appropriate, such criteria; and (d) recommend methods of sampling and examination.
After more than fifty years of service, the original objectives of the Commission are even more relevant today given food safety trends and an anticipated doubling demand and international trade in food by 2050. Diseases caused by foodborne pathogens constitute a worldwide public health problem and food exports and imports are a critical factor in both the economic recovery and food security of many countries. Effective global food safety management systems and standards are therefore important from a public health and economic standpoint as national governments seek to protect their consumers while facilitating trade. In an environment of global interdependence in food security, countries cannot solely rely upon their own food safety managements systems and it is therefore essential that food safety standards are based on sound scientific principles and that their equivalency can be demonstrated. It is in this context, that the continued role of the ICMSF as a leading source for independent and impartial scientific advice to international standard setting bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission, national governments and industry will be crucial to the development of equivalent food standards aimed at reducing the burden of global diseases and facilitating international trade in food.
The primary role of the Commission is to be a leading source for independent and impartial scientific concepts, that when adopted by governmental agencies and industry, will reduce the incidence of microbiological foodborne illness and food spoilage worldwide and facilitate global trade. The future success of ICMSF will continue to depend upon its ability to work effectively with its partners as well as the efforts of its members and consultants who generously volunteer their time, and those who provide the financial support so essential to the Commission’s activities.
Historical papers about the ICMSF are available.