A NEW study on the safety of Bulawayo's fresh food supply has revealed a worrying outcome with results showing high levels of heavy metals and pesticide residue in the city's vegetables and poultry.
The findings of the investigations titled A Study to Assess the Food Safety of Vegetables and Poultry Available in the Market in Bulawayo presented to the Agricultural Cluster Working Group (ACWG) in November last year suggests the majority of vegetables and poultry being sold in Bulawayo have Escherichia coli or E coli and above-normal metal content.
The group is a forum headed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and includes officials from the Agriculture Mechanisation and Irrigation Development ministry, Agritex and stakeholders from local non-governmental organisations, research institutes and the private sector.
E coli is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals, which can cause severe food poisoning. Some types of E coli bacteria can sometimes cause kidney failure and even death.
The study surveyed 58 farms in and around Bulawayo where 53 poultry samples were taken and sent for laboratory testing and microbiological analysis. Fifty vegetable samples were collected for heavy metal analysis and a further 44 vegetable specimen were collected from the open-air markets around the city centre.
The study found the overwhelming majority of the tested poultry samples from the farms had E coli. Staphylococcus aureus or S aureus bacteria that can also cause food poisoning as well as skin and respiratory infections.
Most of the open market's tested vegetable samples contained cadmium, a silvery-bluish metal which, in instances where blood contains high levels of cadmium, can result in chills, respiratory problems and kidney damage.
"Microbiology results for poultry revealed that 90,6% of the samples had E coli and 98,1% had S aureus. These pathogens are capable of causing food poisoning," reads part of the study.
"One hundred percent of the tomatoes sampled exceeded the cadmium World Health Organisation/FAO maximum level. Ninety-seven percent of the choumoellier samples had cadmium levels greater than the WHO/FAO maximum limit. Ninety-two percent of the (vegetable) samples exceeded the maximum level set for lead," stated the results.
Although the research carried out among 208 vendors, 129 retailers and 58 farms does not suggest an imminent outbreak of disease or death as a result, it emphasises the levels of bacterial bugs and metal presence in food is highly undesirable.
On pesticide residue, results were more positive as less than 10% of choumoellier and tomato samples exceeded the acceptable daily intake of pesticides.
"The vegetables were generally safe in terms of pesticides residues, though there is need for caution. Drug residues were within acceptable levels."
The study also raises concern over the rise in illegal abattoirs and the sale of poultry at unlicensed premises and recommends Bulawayo City Council encourages the use of registered slaughter houses, and monitor heavy metal presence in vegetables.
Illegal meat trade is a persistent problem and in a bid to clamp down on illegal meat trade last year, police launched a nationwide campaign dubbed Operation Inyama uyithethephi/Operation Nyama yabvepi (Where did you get the meat?) between June 18 and 26.
During the blitz, authorities shut down an estimated 140 butcheries and 110 restaurants suspected of illegal meat and poultry trading.
Police claimed unlicensed sellers were selling contaminated meat and this unregulated trade posed a health risk.
More than 800kgs of meat was destroyed and 1 070 arrests were effected for livestock theft and cattle rustling.