Topic 2.5: Use of ultra-processed foods in food aid programmes

  • The staff working on food aid programmes should recognize UPFs by understanding and interpreting the food labels.
  • It is recommended for the staff to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of UPFs’ use and the alternative options (trade-offs) while designing, monitoring and evaluating food aid programmes.
  • Each food aid programme is different and has its own peculiarities (budget, facilities, equipment, available staff, applicability, urgency, target population and its special dietary needs) that should be taken into consideration.
  • In cases that food aid programmes are required in extreme settings (e.g. heat wave conditions) the use of some form of processed food or UPF may be inevitable.

Case-Study 1: Food aid programmes using UPFs

The World Food Programme (WFP), which is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) use Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) to treat severe wasting (low weight-for-height) at community level and emergencies. 

What is RUTF? Why is RUTF a wonder food?

It is considered a life-saving essential supply that treats severe wasting in children under 5 years old.
(If not appropriately treated, wasting in children results in higher risk of death) 

One RUTF sachet combines 500 calories and micronutrients that have: 

  • High nutritional value so that malnourished children gain weight quickly
  • Two-year shelf life which makes it convenient to pre-position in a warehouse
  • Appealing taste and easy digestibility
  • No need for preparation since children consume it directly from the packet (a plus especially in unsanitary settlements)

UNICEF: Sustainable procurement and healthy markets of RUTF

  • To make RUTF more promptly available, UNICEF supports production in or close to countries experiencing a high burden of malnutrition by local food manufacturers. 
  • To create healthy markets and in line with its sustainable procurement strategy, UNICEF partners with other expert agencies to expand the supplier base with a focus on local production of RUTF.

In 2005, Niger began producing RUTF under a franchise agreement with the global supplier in France. In 2010, Niger no longer needed to import RUTF and became a supplier for neighboring countries.

  • The social and economic impact and benefit of relying on local production strengthens a wider vision and understanding of sustainability through using UNICEF’s supply function.

Picture from UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng

  • The supply base for RUTF has been diversified cutting down carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions previously attributed to international transport and shipping using airfreight in response to emergencies.
  • Having diversified its supplier base from 1 manufacturer in France to now 21 manufacturers across 15 countries in 4 continents has also empowered local producers, suppliers, and workers to benefit from the whole value chain of RUTF.
  • In 2021, 18 out of 21 UNICEF’s supplier base were based in countries where RUTF is used locally. UNICEF suppliers in Burkina Faso, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Pakistan, and Sudan provide RUTF for international procurement as well.
  • Over 65% of RUTF is now procured from suppliers based in countries where severe wasting is a major public health issue.

Case-Study 2: A food aid programme not using UPFs

The DIATROFI Programme ( offers daily (Monday to Friday) school meals to reduce food insecurity and promote healthy nutrition habits in Greek schoolchildren.

It supports students in primary and secondary public schools in socioeconomically vulnerable areas throughout the country and serves a dual purpose

  • providing food-aidthrough the distribution of a free, daily, healthy and nutritious meal to all students in the participating schools.
  • promoting healthy eatingthrough educational material and activities aimed at the students and their families.

Meals are designed by dietitians to cover 25–30% of children’s daily requirements in terms of energy, with the exclusive use of olive oil. 

The meal includes:

  • A starchy food item (sandwich made with cheese and either vegetables, egg or chicken; or a pie such as spinach pie, chicken pie or pumpkin pie)
  • Pasteurized white milk (2.5–2.8% fat content) or yogurt (three times a week)
  • A fresh seasonal fruit.

The meals consist of ingredients of 100% Greek origin (except bananas) and no preservatives are being used. Also, no UPF product is provided to children.