A man in El Salvador shows off the corn he will sell to WFP as part of the Purchase for Project programme. Copyright: WFP/Laura Melo
WFP’s new Food Safety & Quality Management System is making it easier to ensure that food bought from small farmers is safe to eat and meets the highest quality standards. An important part of that is testing corn for aflatoxin, a naturally occuring carcinogen known to harm the liver.
ROME – As WFP buys more and more food from small farmers under its Purchase for Progress programme, its quality control mechanism is growing more robust to make sure that the food it provides to the hungry is both safe and nutritious.
That means helping farmers to raise their quality standards while closely monitoring the food it buys. Onsite testing in particular, using quality control kits known as “Blue Bloxes”, have proven especially successful in corn growing regions, where aflatoxin contamination is a major problem.
Aflatoxin (see below) is a highly carcinogenic substance produced by a fungus common in sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South America. It can also pass to livestock through animal feed, poisoning meat and dairy.
Weeding out aflatoxin
In Guatemala, for instance, WFP food inspectors successfully used Blue Box kits to test corn that was eventually used in making Vitacereal, a fortified food blend produced at a local factory.
The inspectors said the testing helped to raise awareness among farmers about the importance of preventing contamination through proper threshing, drying and storage techniques. Testing also reassured them that their corn would not be rejected by buyers, strengthening their bargaining position at the market.
In Mozambique, a similar quality control project provided tools and training to a microbiology laboratory at Lurio University, which will be able to test for aflatoxin at a fraction of the cost growers used to pay a private laboratory in South Africa. Whereas before they had to wait up to three weeks to find out whether their corn was safe or not, technicians at Lurio University will be able to tell them in a couple of hours.
What is WFP doing to protect against anflatoxin?
- Testing WFP consignments with private labs the fungus responsible for anflatoxin is known to exist;
- Developing field testing equipment for WFP staff and partners;
- Defining standard operating procedures for aflatoxin testing;
- Teaching prevention techniques through a joint project with the Food and Agriculture Organization;
- Working with FAO to develop a surveillance network and mapping lab capacity in countries at risk of anflatoxin;
- Working with machine makers to design containerized drying, cleaning and sorting equipment;