Working every day in 80 countries to bring food assistance to millions of children, women and men, the World Food Programme (WFP) must ensure that the food it delivers is safe, nutritious and of good quality. Vigilance is all the more important given the often harsh conditions we operate in. The food we distribute travels long distances by road, sea and air, and ideal storage environments can be difficult to guarantee.
With the expertise of highly specialized staff, WFP oversees the safety and quality of its food at every step along the supply chain – from production to processing and packaging; from storage and handling to distribution. While the health of the people we serve is our main concern, we also have a responsibility to ensure our donors’ contributions are used to buy good, nutritious food and that the way it is handled and delivered will preserve its quality.
All food purchased by WFP must comply with set requirements, or specifications. These align with international standards, national legislation and specific regulations in the countries of destination.
The selection of suppliers, including sub-contracted food processors, is based on strict criteria and includes a preliminary assessment and a technical visit. We organize frequent inspections of processing and packaging premises and warehouses, and conduct product tests. Whenever food is suspected of falling below WFP quality standards, it is immediately withdrawn from distribution and quarantined until it is proven to be safe for human consumption.
Over the years, WFP’s work in this area has become more complex. Our food basket is now more diverse and includes a larger proportion of processed foods – such as canned products, biscuits and nutritious supplements, which are more prone to risks than grains. At the same time, our supplier base has also expanded and diversified. We increasingly strive to purchase food in or near the locations where it will be consumed, and 80% of WFP’s food is sourced from developing countries. Pursuing our mandate to achieve Zero Hunger through partnerships, we work with local suppliers to help them comply with quality and safety standards.
What the World Food Programme is doing to ensure food safety and quality
WFP experts constantly review and update over 90 food specifications, which provide guidance to WFP supply chain staff and to current and potential suppliers. To verify compliance with our food safety and quality standards, an average of 15 compulsory analyses is required. Factories, laboratories and inspection companies are frequently audited to ensure the people we serve receive safe, quality and nutritious foods.
In emergency contexts, WFP experts rely on existing regulatory frameworks and assess risks as well as the capacity of local producers and suppliers to meet food safety and quality standards.
Any food suspected of not meeting WFP quality standards is immediately withdrawn from distribution. Lessons learned from actual or suspected quality incidents lead to action such as the tightening of specifications and supplier screening procedures, the reduction of a product’s shelf life, or the strengthening of suppliers’ quality control systems.
WFP engages with local companies to assess the possibility of producing processed foods in-country. WFP screens suppliers based on procurement and food safety and quality criteria and – after awarding them contracts – audits them with a view to improve the safety and quality of their produce.
As well as auditing suppliers directly, WFP works with companies providing inspection services and reviews their performance against contractual key performance indicators.