Eliminating Aflatoxins in Maize Flour

New labeling system may bring safe, affordable maize flour to Kenyan consumers

By: Vivian Hoffman

Kenyan consumers are demanding maize flour that is safe from contamination by aflatoxin, a chemical linked to cancer and other health problems. The toxin, produced by certain fungi, is commonly found in maize from several regions of Kenya due to a combination of environmental conditions and poor post-harvest practices.

In a recent study , Christine Moser and I found that levels of the toxin are lower in more expensive brands of maize flour. In an effort to assure food safety to consumers of more affordable brands, we have been working with Texas A&M AgriLife Research (AgriLife) and Osho Grain Millers, a medium-scale milling company based in Nairobi, to introduce third-party labeling for aflatoxin-tested maize.

The label, borne by Osho’s Tupike brand maize flour as of last week, may be used by participating millers in AgriLife’s Aflatoxin Proficiency Testing for East and Central Africa (APTECA) program. The APTECA program is patterned after a successful aflatoxin regulatory risk management program in Texas, which encounters aflatoxin contamination problems in maize as severe as those seen in Africa.

The APTECA program has a number of strict requirements. Millers must develop an aflatoxin food safety plan which includes passing aflatoxin proficiency tests and undergoing weekly analysis of laboratory control samples to ensure testing accuracy. Companies in the program must develop and adhere to a rigorous aflatoxin sampling and testing procedure for inbound truckloads of maize and must test flour from each batch prior to packing. Audits of test records and related processes are performed weekly, and companies that repeatedly test above the regulatory limit for aflatoxin must undertake corrective action and face a temporary suspension of the APTECA logo.

Over the coming months, we will be monitoring Osho’s sales at over 70 shops in the most aflatoxin-affected parts of the country to assess the impact of labeling on consumer demand. As part of a study funded by the CGIAR’s Agriculture for Nutrition and Health program and the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation , a subset of these shops will benefit from additional product promotion—including leafleting and temporary discounts—over a six-month period to help determine the extent of awareness-raising required to create and sustain consumer demand for food safety.

The Kenya Cereal Millers Association, whose members collectively reach an estimated 10 million customers, is encouraging its millers to adopt the APTECA program. If the consumer response to labeling is strong, we could soon see the rest of the Kenya’s maize sector following Osho’s lead, meeting consumer demands for safe food.