The government of Uganda has started a campaign to tackle the high levels of aflatoxin in food.

The call, supported by Oxfam, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), the Grain Council of Uganda and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, came ahead of World Food Safety Day this year.

Aflatoxins are mycotoxins produced by molds and can affect produce that is not well-dried. High levels can also contaminate food crops like cereals, legumes, oil crops and others, posing a serious health risk to humans and livestock. Based on past research, consuming foods with high aflatoxin levels increases the risk of liver cancer and other related diseases.

High aflatoxin limits were also described as a “major barrier” to the export of Uganda’s agricultural produce to the East African region and internationally. Contamination can also cause crop loss, contributing to hunger.

The campaign is aimed at creating awareness and training all stakeholders in the value chain, from the farm to the final consumer, on how to handle food to avoid contamination. 

Roles for different stakeholders
Officials said farmers are key stakeholders in the fight and they should adopt good agricultural practices to ensure the right moisture content in food to eliminate high aflatoxin levels. This includes ensuring food crops are harvested when dry, storing food on pallets and not on the floor and covering harvested food during the rainy season.

Traders and manufacturers should test moisture content of produce to ensure it is not more than the recommended 13 percent, and use an aflatoxin testing kit to ensure that levels do not exceed 10 parts per billion, before in putting it in the production chain.

Transporters were told to protect produce from rain and dust and offload it as soon as possible, upon delivery. They should also ensure it is dried to the required moisture content before transportation. 

Consumers were advised to buy and consume foods certified by UNBS and report any distributor or dealer of expired or sub-standard products to the police.

“Together, we call upon the government, development agencies and other stakeholders to increase support to the value chains through research, extension, training, promotion of cooperatives, awareness and assistance in detecting and preventing aflatoxin so that foods produced and traded are safe for human and animal consumption and consequently increase household incomes, improve food security and improve the quality of life.”

World Food Programme’s role
Meanwhile, the Mars company has renewed a partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP). 

Virginia Villar Arribas, deputy director of private sector partnerships at WFP, said: “The industry knowledge and experience that Mars brings to WFP adds considerable value to our work in food safety and quality, helping expand our capacity at global and local levels, through strategic guidance, training and processes to strengthen resilience throughout our supply chains.”

Since 2015, Mars and WFP have helped ensure that vulnerable communities have access to safe and nutritious food. Through the partnership, Mars and WFP have strengthened food safety systems, helped reduce risk for those receiving food assistance, and provided food safety training to smallholder farmers. 

Maria Velissariou, vice president of corporate research and development and chief science officer at Mars, said: “Food safety challenges impact everyone from farmers to consumers and will continue to grow, through factors such as climate change and supply chain pressures. There is always more to do, and partnerships are the key.”

WFP also shared a story on how it has improved food safety at a school in Cambodia.

In 2021 while the school was closed because of COVID-19, WFP built a new kitchen, dining area and handwashing facilities, with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This ensured students, teachers, and cooks can wash their hands before preparing, serving, and eating meals. 

WFP has also provided food safety and hygiene training to school staff including directors, storekeepers, and cooks. This included food storage, handling of fresh produce, safe food preparation practices, and basic good hygiene and sanitation.

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