Flour improvement and enrichment

11 February 20226 min reading

Nutrition can be a matter of life and death. An estimated 2 billion people globally suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Fortifying grains to improve nutrition has tremendous implications for individuals, entire populations, and a country’s economy.

Flour fortification is the practice of deliberately increasing the content of one or more essential micronutrients in flour. Fortification of wheat and maize flours with vitamins and minerals is considered a cost–effective strategy for addressing micronutrient malnutrition and nutrition-associated health outcomes.

Cereals are important food vehicles for fortification. Though several foods could be used for carrying micronutrients, wheat flour and maize meal are excellent vehicles because they are staple foods in many parts of the world and key ingredient in so many food preparations. There are major regional preferences in the type of cereal consumed. Asia and the Far East predominantly consume rice but the consumption of wheat is significant and growing. Maize is the main staple in Central America, Mexico and sub Sahara Africa. The Middle East, North America, countries in the former Soviet Union and Europe consume mostly wheat.

Wheat is an important cereal crop and together with maize and rice account for 94% of total cereal consumption worldwide. Fortification of industrially processed wheat flour, when appropriately implemented, is an effective, simple, and inexpensive strategy for supplying vitamins and minerals to the diets of large segments of the world’s population.

Fortification has been recognized by many national governments as an important strategy to help improve the health and nutrition status of millions of people on a continuous and self-sustaining basis. The work productivity and learning ability of the nation as well as the cognitive capacity of the next generation could substantially be improved through fortification.

When micronutrient deficiencies are population-wide and result from a combination of low intake and/or low bioavailability, fortification of commonly consumed cereal flours with iron, folic acid and other vitamins offers a number of strategic advantages. In many situations, cereals flours are the best choice for fortification because they are widely and regularly consumed, and mostly processed in centralized facilities with established distribution and marketing capacity. Due to these reasons, cereal fortification has played a major role in improving the health of the world populations at large. Globally, 91 countries have legislation to mandate fortification of at least one industrially milled cereal grain.

Flour fortification should be considered when industrially produced flour is regularly consumed by large population groups in a country. Decisions about which nutrients to add and the appropriate amounts to add should be based on a number of factors including i) the nutritional needs and deficiencies of the population; ii) the usual consumption profile of “fortifiable” flour (i.e. the total estimated amount of flour milled by industrial roller mills, produced domestically or imported, which could in principle be fortified); iii) sensory and physical effects of the added nutrients on flour and flour products; iv) fortification of other food vehicles; and v) costs.

Source: Food Fortification Initiative

Wheat and maize flour fortification is a preventive food-based approach to improve micronutrient status of populations over time that can be integrated with other interventions in the efforts to reduce vitamin and mineral deficiencies when identified as public health problems. However, fortification of other appropriate food vehicles with the same and/or other nutrients should also be considered when feasible. Wheat and maize flour fortification programmes could be expected to be most effective in achieving a public health impact if mandated at the national level and can help achieve international public health goals.

Fortification programmes must be monitored to confirm that they are working effectively, thereby ensuring the population is receiving a nutritious and safe fortified end-product. The development of fortification monitoring systems that can be properly implemented and maintained requires careful planning.

The fortification process is usually a continuous process that adds premix to flour as it is being produced. In some cases, fortification takes place in a high speed blending system following the flour milling process. In this case, this system is usually installed as part of a new flour mill.

All flour mills need to monitor the flour production process internally to ensure that flour of consistent quality is produced. Internal monitoring refers to the procedures and tests carried out by the flour producers (mills) to manufacture flour as detailed in the standards. It includes quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC). QA refers to the activities that are undertaken during production to ensure that the flour will meet the standards, and QC refers to tests and assessments of the flour to document and prove that it meets the standards.

When fortification is included in the flour standards, millers will need to add fortificants to flour during the milling process if they want to claim that their product is fortified. Likewise, mill staff will need to monitor the fortification processes to ensure the resulting fortified flour is consistently produced as detailed in the standards.

The most common way to fortify flour is using a micro feeder. This adds premix to flour at pre-determined rates in the process of flour production. Three types of feeders are available: screw, revolving disk and drum or roller. Screw feeders are the most common. They dispense a set volume of premix at a constant rate. The size of the screw determines the feed rate capacity, and this allows a wide range of delivery rates. Mills generally need one feeder per type of flour or meal line to be fortified. The size and number of feeders needed depends on the amount of flour produced per hour. 

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