ANERA, through its A2Z project, provides financial and technical resources to strengthen the capabilities of the Ministry of Health’s food fortification program.
Its ultimate goal is to increase the level of essential micronutrients, which tend to be low in the typical Palestinian diet.
A2Z and the USAID Micronutrient and Child Blindness project, overseen by AED, have been providing technical assistance to the Palestinian Authority since April 2008. The project supports the design, regulation, implementation, marketing, supervision, monitoring and evaluation of food fortification practices in the West Bank.
It all begins at the Food Safety Division at the Environment Health Department, where food inspectors head out to inspect factories, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and supermarkets in all 10 West Bank governorates. “Our job is comprised of two things: drawing samples and ensuring that sanitary conditions are met,” says Araft Kabaha, food inspector. “We make sure the levels of personal hygiene and cleanliness of the facility and the machinery are acceptable. We also inspect storage, shipment and production methods.”
The A2Z project held four training workshops entitled “Strengthening the Quality Control of Flour Fortification and Salt Iodization” for the local food inspectors representing the 10 districts of the West Bank. Inspectors came from the Department of Environmental Health, the Ministry of Health, the Department of Consumer Services and the Ministry of National Economy.
The training included technical principles, handling, sampling, manufacturing of flour fortification and salt iodization, as well as proper management of fortification initiatives. It also strengthened quality control measures. One hundred and thirty-three food inspectors participated.
Arafat, one of the workshop participants, has worked as a food inspector for a year now.
“Food fortification is excellent and extremely important, but it still needs more follow-up and establishment of drastic rules and measurements for impeccable application and adherence,” Arafat explains.
Arafat and his colleagues go on daily routine inspections. “For each product, we draw between three to five samples. Although we are short on equipment, we always make sure we’re drawing sufficient samples and that the samples reach the Central Public Health Lab (CPHL) for analysis unharmed,” he says.
At the CPHL, the samples are received and each is labeled and given a number. The samples are then sent to a different division for testing and analysis.
“We receive samples from all governorates and many private and public institutions. We test flour and salt samples, other food samples and also water, make-up, detergent, and medicines. ” says Abeer from the sample receiving division.
The experts make sure that the samples arrive sealed and in good condition. They take note of the production and expiration dates. The samples are divided into categories and kept at room temperature. Each sample is given a unique number and is sent to the lab technician at the chemistry division for testing.
“We have some methods for testing fortified flour and salt samples, such as spots test for flour, quantitative tests for iron and qualitative tests for vitamin A. For foods, we run both chemical and microbial tests,” explains Ibrahim Salem, CPHL Director.
With the help of the A2Z and USAID projects, the Central Public Health Laboratory at the Ministry of Health now has well-trained personnel. The training was conducted by an international expert in food analysis. CPHL staff learned how to implement and refine the methods for determining different micronutrient levels in fortified flour and salt. The CPHL has been provided with external control, publications, and small equipment.
“At the Ministry of Health’s Public Health Laboratory, there are eight functioning divisions: Medicine, Microbiological Analysis, Molecular Biology, Hormones and Enzymes, Quality, and finally the Chemistry division where different foods are tested, such as flour and salt. We test the iodine in salt and fortification of iron and vitamins in flour,” explained the CPHL Director.
“Our laboratory divisions are each divided into units that are carefully monitored,” says May Al-Hakeem, who heads the chemistry division. May ensures that work at the laboratory goes on without interruption. She also provides the higher administration with comprehensive reports and carefully inspected sample test results.
“It is worth mentioning that as a result of the collective effort of the different departments at the Ministry of Health and the high level of commitment to the fortification program, the percentage of the tested fortified flour and salt, which are in compliance with the national standards for the year 2009, is significantly higher than last year’s,” the CPHL Director proudly noted.