What health authorities knew about poisoned food in Nairobi

By Gatonye Gathura

Health authorities were aware of a developing food safety crisis in Nairobi as early as January, reveals data prepared by its officers.

In January, data on the safety of street foods in Nairobi had shown one of every three servings was contaminated with germs dangerous to human health.

This study by the Kenya Medical Research Institute and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) had advised the ministry not to license any untrained food handler.

“There is need for the ministry of health to set effective food safety training requirements before issuing a license to any street food vendor and also carry out regular inspections to ensure compliance.”

The study carried out in Gikomba and Guthura areas of Nairobi found high levels of contamination in all types of street foods.

Of 218 food samples collects from 149 vendors found 34 per cent were contaminated with various disease causing germs.

The study overseen by Dr Peter Wanzala of Kemri, however found contamination with matter from human feaces or fecal coliforms as high as 100 per cent in some types of foods such boiled eggs with ‘kachumbari.’

The most highly contaminated with fecal coliforms, which laboratory analysis showed to carry the disease causing bacteria E.coli, were sausages/smokies and ‘kachumbari.’

“This may have been due to the excessive post handling process since it involves cutting of the sausage/smokie and inserting the ‘kachumbari which mainly includes raw vegetables that require adequate washing with clean water,” says the report.

Other highly contaminated foods were ‘mutura’ ‘ugali’ and ‘mododo’ or boiled beans.

The report appears in the International Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies (IJIRAS).

The authors led by  Emmah Nyambura Kariuki  of JKUAT warned that food contamination in such highly populated areas was an indication of a disease outbreak in the waiting.

With a highly mobile population in Nairobi, the researchers had warned it was only a matter of time before the contamination spread to other parts of the city.

True to the prediction the Division of Vector-Borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases of the Ministry of Health, University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University in March reported extensive food contamination in formal establishments within the Central Business District.

The team had collected and tested more than 671 meat, pork and milk samples from butcheries, supermarkets and a local pork processing factory.

“Overall, 36.2 per cent of samples collected from food outlets and 39.4 from the processing factory were contaminated with the bacteria called S. aureus.

The bacterium is responsible for a host of disease including, skin, bone infections including a type of arthritis as well as pneumonia.

The germs were found in foods people in Nairobi consume every day or buy to take home including yoghurt, raw milk, pasteurized milk and even milk from supermarket dispensers.

Popular meat types sampled and found contaminated included cooked salami, fresh sausages, uncooked ham, hot dog and raw pork.

However this high rate of contamination of human food in Kenya’s capital city was not the biggest scare for the research team.

Most tragic, the team says in the current issue of the East African Medical Journal was confirmation that almost all the strains of S. aureus collected from the foods were impossible to kill with available medicines.

This means patients falling sick from consuming these foods are extremely difficult to treat and some almost impossible.

The researchers had tested the effectiveness of common eight types of antibiotics used to treat patients infected with this type of germs.

In the report, some strains of the bacterium were 100 per cent resistant to the drug penicillin.

Ninety three per cent of the germs were resistant to the compound Ampicillin and 36 per cent to the common medication Cotrimoxazole.

About half of the tested bacteria strains were resistant to three of the medicines, 24 per cent to four and 22 per cent resisted two of the medical compounds.

Almost all the strains of the germs S. aureus were resistant to at least one of the eight antibiotics.

This team had wanted the government to stop the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in food animals in the country while at the same time enforcing strict regulation of the handling of human foods.