Kenyans grapple with sale of dangerously adulterated foods

By Gatonye Gathura

The selling and consumption of deliberately adulterated foods, experts warn has reached alarming levels.

In Nairobi most of the food sold at low end out lets, new survey shows is being fried with highly poisonous oils risking the health of consumers.

The foods including fried fish, potato chips, crisps, mandazi and samosas fed on by millions of the city poor including children, food experts say are a public health hazard.

The frying oils, the study shows are deliberately overused and adulterated for more profits with no concern for consumer health.

Researchers from Jomo-Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology collected and tested food frying oils from low end outlets in parts of Nairobi and found most of it unfit to prepare food for human consumption.

“Our results show that most of the fresh, in-use and discarded oil samples were unfit for consumption,” said Dr Michael Wawire, a lecturer at the Department of Food Science and Technology and study co-author.

Degradation in all discarded oil samples, the study shows was way above the maximum level recommended by regulatory bodies but with evidence these were being resold for further use.

Over cooked or adulterated frying oil, Dr Wawire explained changes its chemical composition to a possible human poison.

“Degraded oils are actually toxins in nature which means that their build up in the human body can lead to health complication,” Dr Wawire told the Standard in an email.

In the study appearing in July issue of the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis Dr Wawire and colleagues, Solomon Karimi and Francis Mathooko, the latter from Machakos University, tested food frying oils from street kitchens, and lower end restaurants in Nairobi City, Juja and Githurai areas.

All in-use and discarded oil samples, the study says showed extremely high levels of degradation putting into question  the safety of foods prepared with such oils.

But even this highly degraded oil, the research shows is re-sold for further food preparation or remixing with fresh oil.

The team also found much of the fresh oils, to be highly degraded indicating a widespread network of trading in used frying oils in Nairobi and its environs.

Dr Wawire alluded to the possibility of traders using transformer oil –used for cooling electricity transmission transformers – to fry food in Nairobi.

“Generally traders could add transformer oil to lower the smoking point of the cooking oil, and get more frying cycles. We plan to study this further,” said Dr Wawire.

But the adulteration of food is not just a Nairobi problem alone with a second report involving the ministries of agriculture and health showing the vice has been devolved even to the most unlikely counties.

For example, the report shows up to a quarter of the raw milk sold in Lamu is contaminated with either antibiotics, water, herbs or other additives dangerous to human health.

“The antibiotics detected in the milk pose a health risk to the consumers by eliciting harmful effects,” says the study.

The report appearing a fortnight ago in the World Health Organisation affiliated Pan African Medical Journal shows Lamu to have joined Nakuru, Narok, Nairobi and Kiambu counties where traded raw milk has been confirmed to be highly adulterated.

In Lamu, the authors led by George Kiage Ondieki who is with a joint laboratories programme of the ministry of health and agriculture says spiking of milk with herbal additives is also cause for worry.

However the team says adulteration, of milk with water of unknown quality, is the biggest problem though it’s spiking with chlorine, antibiotics and urea has been recorded. The milk is spiked by both farmers and vendors as well.

Interestingly, the Lamu study says farmers with at least secondary level of education were three times more likely to adulterate milk compared to those with primary level of education or no formal schooling.

Both studies blame lack of regulations, their enforcement or lenient penalties meted to offenders for the current threat to public food safety.

The Food, Drugs and Chemical Substances Act prohibits the sale of unwholesome, poisonous or adulterated food with offenders facing either a fine of Sh500, 000, two year in jail or both. Repeat offenders face either a fine of Sh700, 000, five years in jail or both.

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