Distribution of some food aid in Uganda has been suspended for the second time this year because more than 30 people have fallen ill and been hospitalized. It is unknown how many more may have been affected.

Super Cereal is distributed as part of a program to protect and improve the health and nutrition of mothers and children by the World Food Programme (WFP). It is corn or wheat blended with soya beans, fortified with vitamins and minerals and processed into flour.

A total of 33 people were sick after a non-governmental organization (NGO) partner of WFP distributed Super Cereal, sugar and oil at Awich Health Centre in the Palabek refugee settlement in the West Nile region of northwestern Uganda on Aug. 26.

“A total of 33 people who fell sick were admitted to health centers in Palabek on Aug. 27 and 28 and all 33 were discharged after treatment by Aug. 30. It included men, women and children,” Peter Smerdon, a WFP spokesperson told Food Safety News.

Replacing Super Cereal
Distribution of all Super Cereal across Uganda has been suspended. WFP is substituting Super Cereal Plus for Super Cereal in Palabek and elsewhere in Uganda.

“It is still suspended because we are working with the government of Uganda to investigate whether there is any link between this outbreak of sickness in Palabek and the previous outbreak in March and April,” said Smerdon.

“Incidents such as this, we really need to track down whether there is a link with the previous outbreak and if so, what that link was and then we will be able to take action to hopefully stop it ever happening again and that is the process we are doing now with the government. We have taken samples and they have been sent off for tests.”

WFP resumed distribution of Super Cereal in West Nile with government permission following a three-month suspension after food poisoning in the Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda in March and April this year.

Earlier food poisonings
In the previous outbreak, four people died and almost 300 fell ill. The food came from a Turkish supplier.

Smerden said it was not yet known if there was any link to the Turkish supplier in the latest incident.

“There are test results that come back all the time but we don’t release them piecemeal, as we haven’t either for the other outbreak, precisely because we keep testing until we find out what was the cause. If we come out with them piecemeal the public may get confused as to whether we’re saying this is the cause or that is the cause,” he said

The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration were involved in efforts to find the source of the first outbreak.

FDA detected traces of alkaloids, specifically atropine. Other tests found aflatoxin B1, low levels of yeast and mold, Bacillus cereus and Salmonella but the causative agent was not specified.

“There hasn’t been a definitive cause found yet because it needs to be agreed by all the parties to the testing so the Ministry of Health, WFP and our partners and so we are still testing to come up with the cause of the original outbreak and see whether it is related to this new one,” said Smerdon.

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