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Food Safety in Food Aid Products

NAMA treats the issue of food safety very seriously. As participants in the supply chain that nourishes virtually every American consumer daily and many of the world’s most vulnerable recipients of food through the U.S. food aid programs, our members recognize the importance of producing safe and wholesome products. The commodities, production techniques and equipment used to process food aid products are the same as those used for U.S. domestic products, so the food safety profile at the time of manufacture is the same for domestic products and export food aid.

Grain-based foods are made from living plants that were grown in open environments and are exposed from time to time to antinutrients, pathogenic microorganisms and other substances that might pose a risk to human health. Our members take numerous measures to reduce or eliminate those risks, such as the use of good manufacturing practices, hazard analysis and critical control point programs, food defense programs and audits. In the case of mycotoxins and some other food safety risks, we rely on testing to help confirm the effectiveness of preventive controls. In addition, moisture levels of grain foods are kept low to help maintain safety and quality during transit.

It is important to understand that flour and other fortified and blended foods are minimally processed agricultural ingredients and are not ready-to-eat products. They are not intended to be consumed raw. In the U.S., the heat processes of baking, frying, boiling and cooking are considered adequate to destroy any pathogens that may be present in flour and eliminate any potential risk of foodborne illness.

One of the most challenging issues for Local and Regional Purchase  (LRP) procurements is maintaining quality control to prevent food safety incidents in developing countries. It is well understood by millers and other stakeholders in the food aid supply chain that the length of that supply chain is long and sometimes arduous. It is not surprising that environmental extremes are often encountered by food aid products during shipment, storage and distribution. High temperatures, high humidity, and exposure to moisture, pests and dirt are common factors in the developing countries where food aid is distributed. NAMA has been supportive of efforts to increase local processing industries capacity to assure quality and food safety in supply of LRP food aid.

The primary tool to manage these risks is the high performance bags used for most milled grain products from U.S. millers These relatively expensive containers are multiwall paper bags surrounding a watertight polypropylene liner. Products in those bags are milled to low moisture content, and intact bags help ensure that moisture levels remain low so as to maintain the safety and quality of the blended and fortified foods as they move through the supply chain. Despite increased attention to food safety in food aid products, we are not aware of any documented food safety incidents that have ever been reported for recipients using food aid products that have been handled, stored and distributed in intact bags.

Recent food safety incidents in the U.S. and around the world have increased sensitivity to food safety threats to food aid commodities. The Food Aid Consultative Group has formed a Food Safety Working Group to advise on procedures and policies to help ensure the safety of food aid products. NAMA is an active participant in this Working Group and will offer the best scientific knowledge possible to develop practical quality control measures that minimize food safety risks.

Last updated August 17, 2011

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