Starting this April, manufacturers can voluntarily add up to 0.7 mg of folic acid per pound of corn masa flour following the announcement Thursday that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the fortification.
A staple of Latin American cuisine, corn masa flour, also known as “masa” (Spanish for dough), is made from corn cooked in alkali and then ground. It is used to make tortillas, tortilla chips, taco shells, tamales, and other products.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that can help prevent neural tube defects in pregnant women, which can lead to defects in the brain, spine, and spinal cord. Many cereal products and other foods like infant formula are already fortified with folic acid. Some manufacturers add folic acid to enriched grains and enriched grain products like bread and pasta.
“Increased consumption of folic acid in enriched flour has been helpful in reducing the incidence of neural tube defects in the general population,” said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Our analysis shows that adding folic acid to corn masa flour will help increase the consumption of folic acid by women who consume this flour as a staple in their diet.”
Manufacturers may begin voluntary fortification of corn masa flour with folic acid on April 15, 2016, according to the FDA.
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The approval is the result of a 2012 petition by The March of Dimes Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations that sought the extension of voluntary fortification to corn masa flour to increase folic acid consumption among women of childbearing age in the US.
Exposure estimates from the FDA and the petitioners indicate that the fortification could increase folic acid consumption in people who regularly consume corn masa flour products, particularly Latina women.
While the petitioners state that increased consumption will prevent neural tube defects in childbirth, the FDA said its approval is based on the agency’s review of the safety of the proposed use of folic acid.