This chapter of the catalogue is a reference document for the nutritionists of the Movement and their implementing partners. It gives the minimum standards to ensure the quality of food aid.
- - ISO, EC, ICC, AOAC, GOST, Codex Alimentarius (www.codexalimentarius.net) (www.fao.org).
- - The Codex Alimentarius is published jointly by the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation) and the WHO (World Health Organisation). It gives food standards for all countries. It covers most of the food item specifications, but some additional references are needed. For instance, the FAO has a special publication for all the state's specifications on heavy metals content, as there is no international agreement on this particular point. All our specifications refer to the Codex, and have the necessary additional information when needed.
- - For food trade, we generally use the ISO standards, but also the Russian and European standards. This is to cover our major sourcing markets for food, that are the European Union, the former USSR, and the world market. Other national standards are used in specific cases.
- - Specifications vary with national regulations. We give here our most commonly used specifications. Importation of food is always subject to acceptance from the national authorities, based on their national specifications, these specifications should be checked before purchasing.
- - At any time a country can decide to revise its specifications, for the protection of its national market, or for public health related matters, etc..
- - Our item sheets include general specifications for the world market, EC specifications for food purchases in the European Union, and GOST specifications for food purchased in the former USSR, because these are the regions where we mostly purchase these commodities.
- - Refer to HQ when offered specifications which do not fit in our standard specifications. The diversion has to be analysed by a food specialist before approval or rejection.
- - As for all direct purchases, Inspection Companies play a paramount role in the purchase of food commodities. In most of the cases, the purchaser does not see the goods before they reach their final destination. The quality control is entirely in the hands of the Inspection Company.
- - To ensure a good result, not only the specifications must be precise and checkable; but also the terms of the purchase contract (PO) must be strict and clear. It is recommended to base the PO on the GAFTA (Grain and Feed Trade Association), for all cereals and pulses.
Destabilising local markets: impact on the local, national, or regional market availability and prices should be carefully looked at before purchasing large quantities. The risk of flooding a market is as dangerous as the risk of emptying a market.
Marking and origin. For safety reasons, markings related to the country of origin of the food might have to be avoided in some countries.
The expression "fit for human consumption" may sound very vague, and not inspectable. In fact, behind this expression, there is a package of points to be controlled, mainly on heavy metals, on micro-organisms and on pesticides presence in the food commodity. The laboratory will then refer to the laws in force in the specific country and check all items accordingly.
Reject batches where there is any uncertainty about food safety'.
Product durability. We find 4 types of date on food items: The "use-by date", the "date of minimum durability" the "date of manufacture" the "date of packaging".
- - "Date of manufacture" means the date on which the food becomes the product as described.
- - "Date of packaging " means the date on which the food is placed in the immediate container in which it will be ultimately sold.
- - "Date of minimum durability" ("best before") is the date which signifies the end of the period under any stated storage conditions during which the product will remain fully marketable and will retain any specific qualities for which tacit or express claims have been made. However, beyond the date the food may still be perfectly satisfactory.
- - "Use-by date" (recommended last consumption date, expiry date) means the date which signifies the end of the estimated period under any stated storage conditions, after which the product probably will not have the quality attributes normally expected by the consumers. After this date, the food should not be regarded as marketable. Under specific circumstances, one may proceed with laboratory tests to extend the "use-by date".
The discussion about GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) is still going on in the Movement. One decision taken is not to distribute GMO's in grain in order to avoid re-planting of GMO's. A more detailed technical directive about GMO's is available at ICRC technical services.
As food is an "alive commodity", one should pay a particular attention to the storage conditions. We too often see infested food stocks, or food not consumed before the " use-by date".
All type of grains and grain sub-products are sensitive to insects and rodents. Large stockpiles can also present physical danger like overheating, blasting, or falling. It is important to bring in the right competence to prevent all these damages. Specialised companies as well as state departments for food and health are major partners in this matter. It is important to keep very close control of the food stocks, with regular check up on the stock condition (once a week is a minimum). Moving stock piles and fumigation are the most common operations to be applied regularly (at least every 3 months, more if needed). See fumigation products in chapter "warehousing" of this catalogue.
Humidity and heat are the most important factors to fight against when stocking food. They are the causes of microbiological growth, of insect infestation, of piles over-heating. All warehouses must be well ventilated and dry.
The item sheets include an indicative price to serve as a first gross estimate for budgeting; those prices do not include transport costs.
Food prices are permanently fluctuating from one country to another, from one month to another.