Food enrichment or food fortification is the process whereby nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are added to food. This normally happens during or directly after manufacturing.
Food products may be enriched for the following reasons:
All foods contain micro-nutrients to a greater or lesser degree and not all foods contain the same amount. Therefore, a balanced diet is the ideal way of ensuring adequate intake of all the essential micro-nutrients. Enrichment is an important intervention to be considered where it is not possible (e.g. consuming traditional diets or for financial reasons).
Policy - Need
Ideally, all countries should have an official enrichment policy, for example, it is mandatory for bread in the United Kingdom to be enriched with vitamins and calcium. Other foods which are enriched in other countries are maize meal (B vitamins), margarine (Vitamin D) and salt (iodine).
Before considering an enrichment policy there should be scientific evidence that it is needed. The following evidence should be forthcoming if an enrichment scheme is to be regarded as resting on a sound scientific basis:
- Evidence that there is need for the nutrients to be added by enrichment (this will be evident from nutritional status surveys).
- Evidence that the food selected as a vehicle for the nutrient must reach the population at risk.
- Evidence that the amounts of enriching substances provided are sufficient to satisfy the proven need when the food is consumed in normal quantities by the population at risk.
- Proof that the enrichment medium is regularly consumed in important quantities by those in need of enrichment.
- Evidence that the enrichment can be easily carried out in practice, i.e. is technically feasible for the particular food to be enriched.
- Evidence that the enriching substances or preparations do not appreciably alter the appearance, taste, physical characteristics, shelf-life or cooking properties of the food.
- Evidence that the enriching substance or preparation/s are free from bacterial contamination or toxicity.
- Evidence that the cost of enrichment does not result in a significant increase in the cost of the food enriched.
- Evidence that the food selected does not seriously interfere with the utilisation of the nutrient and the nutrient is biologically available in the form in which it is added and remains stable in the food as a vehicle.
Renewed and intensive studies on food enrichment are being carried out world-wide. Even the World Bank is getting involved and is estimated that in 1995, it will lend at least $60 million for micro-nutrient projects. Enrichment may be the most feasible and cost-effective approach to alleviate certain nutritional problems, for example, preventing and alleviating iodine deficiency disorders with iodated salt.
Malnutrition, with emphasis on under-nutrition, is one of the major problems to be addressed urgently in South Africa. Nutrition status surveys over the past number of years have confirmed this and specific deficiency diseases have been identified, for example Pellagra (deficiency in certain B-group vitamins), Anaemia (iron and folic acid deficiency) and goiter (iodine deficiency).
An appropriately designed enrichment programme, which forms part of an integrated nutritional strategy, contributes to the alleviation of under-nutrition in South Africa.
F.A.C.S. Scientific Director. 2009. (Update 2016 imminent)