The World Food Programme (WFP) has halted global distribution of a fortified blended food linked to illnesses in Uganda with investigations so far unable to find what caused the outbreak.

The United Nations agency has temporarily stopped distribution of Super Cereal from one supplier as testing continues to establish whether it is linked to illness in East Africa.

Food supplies on hold around the world total more than 21,000 metric tons with an estimated replacement value of US$22 million.

Three people died and 293 were admitted to health centers in the Karamoja region of Northeast Uganda in March and April after eating Super Cereal, distributed by WFP to prevent malnutrition.

Super Cereal is maize or wheat blended with soya beans, fortified with vitamins and minerals, processed into flour and supplied in 25-kilogram bags.

In March, 262 people were sickened in Uganda with symptoms of mental confusion, vomiting, headache, high fever, and abdominal pain. Officials urged people to stop eating the food until further notice.

The WFP appealed for calm while investigations were ongoing. Officials requested people report any suspected illnesses to the nearest health facility.

Investigations have not conclusively found what caused illness. More than 2,400 food-related laboratory tests have been conducted – including for mycotoxins, heavy metals, pesticides, and microbial contaminants – but the root cause has not yet been established. Food samples were sent to labs owned by Intertek in Mombasa, Kenya and Johannesburg, South Africa for analysis.

As Super Cereal was identified as a possible cause, WFP halted distribution first in Karamoja and then across Uganda. Communications campaigns were launched to urge people with remaining stocks to return them.

On April 9, WFP halted global distribution of all products from the supplier in question including putting on hold Super Cereal stocks in WFP operations in 25 countries.

On April 30, WFP ordered all stocks of Super Cereal from the same supplier to be secured in WFP warehouses and partner storage areas. Samples will continue to be tested to confirm or rule out any preliminary conclusions.

WFP has provided Super Cereal in Uganda for more than 10 years. Coverage includes 252 locations in Karamoja and sites across the 13 refugee hosting districts. Refugees receive Super Cereal in the general food basket.

In February this year, WFP identified stocks of Super Cereal from a commercial supplier that were too low in protein and fat based on WFP’s contract with the company. This quality issue was discovered while WFP was investigating a different localized problem with the condition of some Super Cereal.

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