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Meat traders on spot over harmful preservatives

The County Government of Nakuru has warned butchers and supermarkets against using illegal and harmful substances to preserve meat.

The devolved unit has assured the public that it has put in place measures to ensure harmful food is no longer sold in supermarkets and other outlets.

County Chief Officer for Public Health Ms Alice Abuki said they will prosecute and publish the names of any persons engaged in the sale of unwholesome, poisonous, adulterated foods and ensure their licenses are cancelled upon conviction.

She indicated that the authorized and standardized preservation methods of meat included salting, deep freezing and smoking, all of which are harmless.

Ms Abuki has also urged the public to refrain from eating meat which has not been inspected by health officials adding that this also applied in the case where stray wild animals like a buffalo or hippo are killed and shared by the masses.

She advised residents to consult a veterinary authority when for instance a cow dies to confirm the cause of death and stated that there are certain diseases which are called “notifiable diseases”, meaning they have a public health or economic implications.

By involving veterinary doctors, Ms Abuki noted, the authorities are able to know which diseases are occurring, so that they come up with a strategy for controlling them.

“It helps in managing impending disease outbreaks and the government can now decide to roll out vaccination programmes against such diseases like anthrax,” Ms Abuki observed.

The Chief Officer explained that inspected meat has an official rubber stamp put on it adding that uninspected meat was very dangerous due to zoonotic diseases like anthrax, rabies and East Coast Fever (ECF).

Two weeks ago a seven-year-old boy died after drinking soup made from the carcass of a sick cow even as 40 people who also ate the meat fell ill in Tirgoi village in Kuresoi South, Nakuru County.

There have also been reports that several undeclared and unregulated preservatives such as formalin and a variety of sulphites have permeated the meat industry.

In an interview with Kenya News Agency Ms Abuki cautioned residents to be careful as animals can sometimes appear healthy even when they are carrying germs that can make people sick, depending on the zoonotic disease.

She added “More than six out of every ten known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals. Zoonotic diseases represent a major public health problem around the world due to our close relationship with animals in agriculture, as companions and in the natural environment.”

The Chief Officer said mechanisms were in place to ensure that all meat offered for consumption in the county is slaughtered in approved slaughterhouses, duly inspected, stamped and transported under the control of the inspecting officers.

She said at the slaughterhouses, the animals meant for slaughter are first taken through ante-mortem inspection before they are killed and then post-mortem inspection after slaughter.

“A certificate is then issued to give authority to transport the meat from slaughterhouses. Further, items used to carry the meat for transportation are also licensed,” explained Ms Abuki.

The Chief Officer urged the residents to demand for proof of inspection.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Zoonosis can also cause disruptions in the production and trade of animal products for food and other uses while further explaining that zoonotic diseases comprise a large percentage of all newly identified infectious diseases as well as many existing ones.

“Some diseases, such as HIV, begin as a zoonosis but later mutate into human-only strains. Other zoonosis can cause recurring disease outbreaks, such as Ebola virus disease and salmonellosis. Still others, such as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, have the potential to cause global pandemics,” WHO states.

Ms Abuki affirmed that public health guidelines clearly prohibited the use of chemicals to preserve meat and was categorical that supermarkets and butchers are not supposed to add anything to meat that could be injurious to human health or life.

Unscrupulous butchers have been using sodium metabisulphite, a whitish, powdery compound that resembles glucose.

The salts are particularly used in ‘slow’ months such as January when the demand for meat is low.

Last year laboratory tests carried out independently on meat samples purchased from supermarkets and butcheries in Nakuru and surrounding regions revealed the presence of the preservative, which scientists say is one of the agents that cause cancer.

Food experts say sulphites are generally safe if used within recommended limits, but they can cause negative side effects like nasal congestion, itchy throat, runny nose, skin rash, and hives in some people. The US banned their use as preservatives in 1986.

Ms Abuki added that heat has no effect on the sodium metabisulphite, which should not be present at all in fresh food.

“Sodium metabisulphite should only be in processed food and in small quantities. Its presence in fresh meat means someone is using it to prolong shelf life, without knowing the correct quantities to apply. This could be particularly dangerous for those allergic to sulphur as it could give them skin eruptions or send them into anaphylactic shock,” she said.

By Jane Ngugi and Tracy Okello

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